Apparently, the only thing that can bring together two Mobile officials on opposite ends of the political spectrum is support for a former judge who was tried on charges he paddled and had sex with inmates.
Councilman Fred Richardson and Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran have both come out publicly in support of former Mobile County Circuit Court Judge Herman Thomas for the District 1 Mobile City Council seat. Thomas is in a runoff with Cory Penn on Tuesday, Oct. 5.
On the legal issues, Cochran acknowledged that Thomas was “charged in a highly political thing, but found not guilty.” In fact, the jury in the case deadlocked.
“I believe when somebody’s found not guilty, you should trust the system,” Cochran said.
The jury of seven women and five men issued not guilty verdicts on seven charges, a sodomy charge, one second-degree assault and five sexual abuse charges. The jury foreman told the judge in the trial it was unlikely they would come to any agreement on 14 other charges after 16 hours of deliberation.
Special Judge Claud Neilson, who had been brought from out of town to hear the case after Thomas’ former colleagues on the Circuit Court recused themselves, then, as a “matter of law,” found Thomas not guilty on all the remaining second-degree assault charges, determining that a paddle or a belt was not a dangerous instrument and, therefore, did not meet the wording in the law. During the trial, Thomas’ defense team all but admitted the ex-judge had paddled or spanked the alleged victims, but had repeatedly said Thomas “wasn’t on trial for spanking anyone.”
Neilson then went down the list and tossed the remaining sodomy and second-degree assault charges. On the sodomy issue, Neilson said there had to be forcible compulsion to do so but no such thing happened. The jury found Thomas not guilty in the case of the alleged victim who had an IQ of 55 and claimed the then-judge tried to force the victim’s mouth onto the judge’s penis by grabbing the back of the victim’s head.
It is Thomas’ apparent support of annexation that has gained Cochran’s support, the sheriff said.
“He supports the fact that the city needs to grow,” Cochran said. “That is the number one issue in the city of Mobile.”
While Thomas has publicly shown support for growth in comments during political forums, Cochran said he’s spoken with Thomas and the former judge told Cochran unequivocally he’d vote for annexation.
If it weren’t for his support of annexation, Cochran said, he would not be supporting Thomas.
In a podcast interview with Lagniappe, which will be made public Sept. 27, Penn also said he was pro-growth.
“Annexation is one way to grow our city and I’m pro-growth,” Penn said. “With that being said, I want to see a plan to see just how annexation will impact our current communities we serve and a transparent and detailed plan that identifies the advantages and I think when we have that plan we can share that with our constituents. That’s the thing; I want to hear from my constituents. I would like to see that plan, but I’m pro-growth. I want Mobile to grow.”
In late 2019, the Mobile City Council voted down a plan pushed by Mayor Sandy Stimpson to allow more than 13,000 residents of West Mobile to vote, via referendum, to join the city. The vote fell along racial lines, with the council’s four White members voting in favor of the referendum and the three Black members voting against. The vote failed due to lack of a supermajority in favor of the move. Following the vote, Cochran led a charge to change the supermajority rule, but the COVID-19 pandemic slowed that down.
The Mobile branch of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association has given the Thomas campaign $700 during this election cycle. Cochran is not listed among the group’s board, but two Mobile County deputies are listed among the leadership.
Richardson announced his support for Thomas on Facebook Live Wednesday, Sept. 15, saying the former judge will continue his fight for the betterment of the district.
“We have fought for every penny invested in District 1,” he said. “Every sidewalk, every resurfaced street, every parallel ditch we’ve closed; we had to fight to bring relief to every flooding neighborhood and I was happy to take on that fight. The fight must go on.”
Thomas, Richardson said, is “tried and proven” and someone who will “stand at the front of the line on all issues and not in the back of the line.”
As for Thomas’ legal issues, Richardson said they are behind him and he was found not guilty.
“I’m not going to retry him on issues he’s already been tried for and acquitted,” he said.
The current councilman compared the allegations against Thomas — which included accusations of paddling and having sexual relations with inmates — to allegations Richardson faced during the civil rights era when those opposed to what he was doing called him a “militant.”
“They didn’t want me fighting for equal rights so they targeted me as a militant,” Richardson said.
Richardson’s theory is the powers that be in Mobile wanted to prevent Thomas from becoming presiding judge, which remains a largely administrative position within the Circuit Court, with a slight bump in pay. Thomas claims he ran for the position, but a majority of judges selected Charlie Graddick as presiding judge.
Despite not being convicted, Thomas was disbarred in both Alabama and Florida, with those legal associations arguing there was ample evidence he had misused his position. Thomas has made several attempts to regain his rights to practice law in both states, but those efforts have failed.
“They took his law license and they won’t give it back because they fear that he’ll run for judge again and win,” Richardson said. “That’s what happened, in my opinion as a political scientist.”
Richardson’s term ends Oct. 31 of this year. A recount effort on the part of District 1 third-place finisher Chamyne Fortune Thompson did not materialize. She did not pay the $16,700 required for the District 1 recount by the deadline of Friday, Sept. 10, City Clerk Lisa Carroll-Lambert confirmed in an email to Lagniappe. Thompson officially trailed Thomas by some 240 votes after the tallies were certified.
Penn finished Election Day with 35 percent of the votes in District 1. Thomas finished with 28 percent and Thompson finished with 22 percent.
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