A judge has ruled against a defendant who challenged a conviction and sentence handed down by former Municipal Court Director Charles Graddick, who presided over an unknown number of local court cases even though the Mobile City Council had never appointed him to serve as a municipal judge.
As Lagniappe has reported, Graddick, a former circuit judge, was appointed to be the city’s chief judicial advisor and director of municipal court by Mayor Sandy Stimpson in 2017 after aging out of his position on the county bench. At some point during his tenure with the city, Graddick began presiding over cases as a municipal judge — a position usually filled by a vote of the City Council.
It’s unclear exactly how long Graddick was hearing cases on the bench or how many he heard because city officials have maintained that information can’t be compiled. They have since declined or failed to fulfill multiple records requests for the dockets Graddick handled and what he was paid for that work.
Officials in 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.
Since then, some defendants sentenced by Graddick have questioned whether he had the authority to preside over their cases — citing the council’s authority to appoint municipal judges and a state law that prohibits cities from appointing anyone as a municipal judge who is already “employed” by that city.
At the time he was acting as a judge, Graddick was making about $100,000 a year serving as the director of courts. He has since left that position after being appointed to serve as director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles by Gov. Kay Ivey earlier this year. He officially took office earlier this month.
However, even though he’s moved on to Montgomery, several of Graddick’s old municipal cases are still being challenged in circuit court. One of those cases was brought by Andrew David Peyregne, who Graddick sentenced to a year of probation for a menacing charge in April 2019.
In court, Peyregne’s attorney argued his conviction and sentence were invalid and sought to have the case dismissed, but ultimately, Circuit Judge Michael Youngpeter found Graddick was acting as a municipal judge when he handed down the sentence — regardless of whether he was lawfully entitled to be.
Specifically, Youngpeter cited an Alabama law that says the actions of anyone “exercising the functions” of a public officer are considered valid and binding under the law “whether such person is lawfully entitled to hold office or not or whether such person is lawfully qualified or not.”
“Regardless of whether Judge Graddick was lawfully entitled to hold the office of municipal judge in Mobile County, he was holding that office and exercising the functions of that office at the time he adjudged Peyregne guilty and sentenced him,” Youngpeter wrote. “As such, the judgement challenged by Peyregne is valid and binding as an official act of a de facto officer.”
Speaking to Lagniappe, Peyregne’s attorney, James Byrd, said the case had since been resolved. He also said he has other clients who were sentenced by Graddick as well, but that in the vast majority of those cases, it made more sense to move forward and serve whatever sentence had been handed down.
“In most of those cases, the outcome would have been more detrimental to the client had we challenged the conviction from municipal court. It would have cost them more than what they were getting sentenced to,” Byrd said. “You always have to look out for what’s best for the client.”
While the city wouldn’t comment on the outcome of Peyregne’s case, it seems that having a ruling come down in its favor on this issue may have quelled some of the concern about challenges to Graddick’s old cases. In fact, the city has already cited Youngpeter’s order in a motion to dismiss another case.
In July, attorney Christine Hernandez filed a notice of intent to file suit against the city of Mobile on behalf of several potential clients. The same day, she filed a writ of habeas corpus demanding one of her clients, 41-year-old Ronnie Parrish, be brought back before the court so the city could show cause for why he was detained by municipal court police under a sentence imposed by Graddick earlier this year.
Parrish was booked into Mobile County Metro Jail in April on charges of criminal trespassing and third-degree domestic violence, but Hernandez’s filing argued the sentence imposed by Graddick was unlawful because he was not properly serving as a municipal judge at the time.
Since then, city attorney Ricardo Woods has filed a motion to dismiss that claim based upon several state laws and previous cases — including Youngpeter’s decision in Peyregne’s challenge. Circuit Judge Wesley Pipes has set a hearing for arguments for and against that motion to dismiss on Friday, Oct. 4.
Reached by Lagniappe, Hernandez said she has not yet had time to fully respond to the city’s motion to dismiss because she’s been preparing for a capital murder trial that started this week. In the meantime, she declined to comment on Youngpeter’s ruling until she’s has more time to review it thoroughly.
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