MOBILE, Ala. (CN) - A rising star in the southern Alabama judiciary faces 20 years to life in jail on charges that he traded lighter sentences for sex with male inmates.
Former Alabama Circuit Court Judge Herman Thomas, a black Democrat elected into a predominately white, Republican county, was once the Democratic Party's choice for a position that would have made him the first black federal judge in southern Alabama.
Thomas now faces 83 charges of sodomy, sex abuse, kidnapping and extortion going back as far as 1999, his first year on the bench.
Authorities put the spotlight on Thomas in 2006 after he changed the jail sentence of his cousin in a case being handled by another judge. In the course of that investigation, the district attorney's office discovered other cases that Thomas had taken from judges without their approval.
Then inmates began telling stories of being checked out of jail for meetings with Thomas in his car or private office. They reported being told by Thomas to pull down their underwear so they could be spanked with a wooden paddle. This progressed into allegations of oral and anal sex in exchange for lighter sentences.
Thomas stepped down from the bench when the allegations surfaced, and the Alabama State Bar suspended his license to practice law.
Though Thomas maintains his innocence and claims race is a motivating factor in the prosecution, all of the victims in the case are black and semen from one of the inmates was found on the carpet of his office. Jail house records also corroborate the inmates' stories.
But the prosecution must first overcome the statute of limitations. Twenty of the original ethics violations against Thomas have already been thrown out and, on Wednesday, the prosecution dismissed one of the 15 victims expected to testify, citing his involvement in a lawsuit related to the case.
Presiding Judge Claud Neilson has yet to rule on the defense's motion for dismissal, because the incidents allegedly happened more than three years ago.
Jury selection started Monday in the trial that is expected to last three weeks.
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