The spanking judge is running for Mobile City Council.
Yes, that’s right. Herman “Spanky” Thomas wants to be District 1’s representative on the council.
I know it’s been quite some time since Thomas was in the news regularly, and he may be nothing more than an occasional punchline these days. But in 2009, Thomas was at the center of one of the biggest trials since this fine publication began printing. Only Steve Nodine’s murder trial would compare, in my opinion, and I sat through a good bit of both of them.
Thomas narrowly escaped prison time 11 years ago, and I will always believe the system bent over backward to make sure that happened. Over the past decade, the former Circuit Court judge has tried to rehab his image to a degree, and he always publicly blames his prosecution on forces determined to bring down a strong Black judge. But that’s just a smokescreen.
In the eyes of the law, the world may never truly know whether Herman Thomas used his position to force young men in trouble with the law to fulfill his sexual desires. But, there are many things about this situation that aren’t subject to Thomas’s efforts to rewrite history.
Let’s take the Hot Tub Time Machine back to 2006, when Herman Thomas was a highly regarded member of the local judiciary. He was on the University of South Alabama’s Board of Trustees. There had even been talk of him moving to the federal level. Then he got caught moving a friend from serving a short sentence in Mobile Metro to the practically empty Prichard City Jail, and that was the beginning of the end for Thomas.
Soon we found out he had been moving hundreds of cases off of other judges’ dockets to his own so he could have close oversight of not only their trials, but probations and other disciplinary measures. While it’s very hard still for me to believe people in Government Plaza weren’t aware of what he was doing, once the news got out, there was an explosion of incredulity.
Complaints against Thomas to the Alabama Office of Courts took him before the Judicial Inquiries Commission (JIC). It is there Thomas would have a hearing about his actions as a judge — his day in court, so to speak. If he felt he was wronged or being unfairly persecuted, this would have been the place to fight that out. But he didn’t do it. Instead, Thomas resigned. I know that over the years, an urban legend has grown that Herman Thomas was forced out of office by evil people who hated him for the color of his skin, but if HYT ever actually believed he was being railroaded, he didn’t mention it to the JIC.
His resignation was actually a very shrewd move because it automatically sealed all of the JIC files compiled in the complaints against him and meant JIC would offer no ruling as to his behavior. He wasn’t a judge anymore, but at that point staying out of jail was the bigger issue for him.
Along the way, we found out Herman had been given a tiny little “secret” personal office away from his official office. It was a small room, decorated with fraternity paddles and other personal effects. Some young men who had been in there with him claimed the judge would make them pull their pants down so he could spank their naked butts with a fraternity paddle. They also alleged sexual activity, and investigators eventually pulled up pieces of carpet from the room that they said contained semen.
The expectation grew that Herman Thomas would be indicted — most likely by the Feds for civil rights violations alleged against him by several young men. But the news started to die down, and by late 2008, nobody was really talking about it anymore. A couple of local attorneys more or less resuscitated the investigation. John Furhman, a former Assistant District Attorney, did an interview with Lagniappe critical of his old boss John Tyson’s handling of things, and then Joe Kulakowski provided hours of recordings he’d made with prisoners talking about what Thomas allegedly did to them.
Suddenly the case sprang back to life and Tyson issued indictments. But a lot of time had passed, statutes of limitations had run out in certain situations, and special judge Claud Neilson tossed many charges because of that. At the end, jurors were deadlocked on seven charges, including sodomy 11-to-1 for conviction, but when they couldn’t come to a consensus, Neilson tossed the entire case against Thomas instead of ordering a retrial.
As Thomas walked out of the courtroom, he was disbarred on the spot by the general counsel of the Alabama Bar Association and has been repeatedly denied when he’s applied for readmission since.
I’m sure in this race for District 1, Thomas will once again attempt to portray himself as a victim, but I don’t think there was ever any terribly serious danger of him being convicted for the things he did. Thomas oversaw thousands of cases. A conviction for spanking and having sex with young men in exchange for lighter sentences would have meant a massive investigation into and possibly retrying of cases that could have tied up the entire system.
Tyson complained the Feds left him out to dry by claiming they were going to prosecute Thomas then bailing when statutes of limitations had run out. In 2012, that was proven true. I filed Freedom of Information Act requests to get emails between the Department of Justice and the local U.S. Attorney’s Office at that time and what I found was rather mind-blowing.
At 10:01 a.m. on his very first day — Jan. 21, 2009 — U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s office emailed then-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama Deborah Rhodes and ordered her recusal from the investigation and potential prosecution of Thomas “based on existing conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts of interest pertaining to the case.”
The DOJ refused to give me 10 other pages regarding this recusal, so we may never know what this “conflict” was. But the one thing that is certain is Eric Holder’s wife is a Mobilian and the new AG walked into his office on Day 1 and issued that order before he probably even knew where the men’s room was. Any chance they know Herman?
So when you hear Thomas out stumping for office, making wild claims of conspiracies against him, realize there’s not a tremendous amount of what happened that isn’t known. His attorney essentially admitted he spanked young men while he was a judge, but that’s not what he was on trial for. And he clearly had help from D.C. to keep him free as well.
Herman has already been spanked in two previous races, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the people of District 1 reject him as well. Lord knows we don’t need a Spanking City Councilman.
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