A local attorney is preparing to challenge the authority of an unknown number of convictions and sentences handed down by Mobile Municipal Court Director Charles Graddick, who was previously serving as a municipal judge despite not being appointed by the City Council.
Attorney Christine Hernandez told Lagniappe Tuesday she had filed a notice of intent to file suit against the city of Mobile, which is a standard procedure when suing a public entity. A formal lawsuit is expected to be filed in state court sometime within the next six months.
Requests to the city seeking a copy of the complaint submitted with the notice of claim were initially unsuccessful, but Hernandez told reporters her contention is that sentences and convictions Graddick imposed while serving as a municipal judge were unlawful.
She outlined as much in a separate writ of habeas corpus demanding one of her clients, 41-year-old Ronnie Parrish, be brought back before the court so the city can show cause for why he was arrested by municipal court police following a hearing on April 9, 2017.
Parrish was booked into Mobile County Metro Jail on that date on charges for criminal trespassing and third-degree domestic violence, but Hernandez’s filing claims the sentence imposed by Graddick was unlawful because he was not able to serve as a municipal judge.
That’s because, according to state law, cities are prohibited from appointing anyone as a municipal judge who is “otherwise employed” by the municipality. Graddick makes about $100,000 a year serving as the director of courts. Some members of the Mobile City Council have raised that issue and asserted judicial appointments are the council’s responsibility.
City spokesman George Talbot wrote in a text message the city’s legal department is reviewing the initial filing.
“The city will review the claim and handle it accordingly,” Talbot said. “Judge Graddick is still a member of the team and will soon be transitioning to serve in his new position with the state of Alabama.”
Officials with Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration initially defended the appointment of Graddick to the bench as being within the mayor’s legal authority, but later announced he would no longer be serving as a judge after reports on the issue were published by Lagniappe.
Earlier this month, Gov. Kay Ivey tapped Graddick to serve as the director of the revamped Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles. He’ll take over that position officially in September but will continue to serve as the director of municipal courts until mid-August.
As of right now, it’s unclear exactly how many cases Graddick may have presided over and what the outcomes of those cases were for defendants. However, there have been rumors for several weeks that attorneys were preparing to challenge some of his convictions and sentences.
Hernandez’s notice of intent appears to make good on that promise, though she’s only filed an official action regarding Parrish’s arrest from April. If more defendants who were put in prison or on probation by Graddick come forward, the number of potential plaintiffs could grow.
Dale Liesch contributed to this report.
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