Limestone District Judge Douglas Patterson appeared on the other side of the bench Tuesday to plead not guilty to charges of theft, exploitation and misuse of office.
Patterson was indicted by a Limestone County grand jury in December 2019 on three counts — use of official position or office for personal gain, first-degree financial exploitation of the elderly and third-degree theft of property.
In a motion hearing Tuesday, defense attorney Chuck Warren argued for access to grand jury testimony and recordings, claiming the grand jury may have been influenced by another judge, Limestone Circuit Judge Robert Baker. Warren said Baker tried to pressure Patterson into taking a plea deal.
"Judge Baker personally texted Patterson's personal cellphone, directly threatening Judge Patterson that if he did not accept a preindictment plea bargain, that he — Judge Baker — would contact the (attorney general's) office and convene a special grand jury to indict Judge Patterson," Warren said.
Judge Steven Haddock disagreed.
"Grand jury proceedings are supposed to be maintained with some degree of secrecy," said Haddock, a retired Morgan County circuit judge appointed to oversee Patterson's case after Patterson's coworkers recused themselves. Haddock said records from the grand jury "might be marginally relevant" to Patterson's case at best, and Warren's claim "with virtually no evidence to support does not meet the threshold" for handing over grand jury testimony or recordings.
New court dates
After the motion ruling and Patterson's plea of not guilty, Haddock began setting a trial date and deadlines for motions.
A motion was filed asking to extend the deadline for pretrial motions, and Haddock granted the extension Tuesday. The new deadline is April 1. Responses must be filed by April 22, but Haddock added there may be additional dates set at a later time.
As for the trial, Haddock offered three options: June 8, 15 or 22. Warren requested the trial not be held the week of June 8, citing his wedding anniversary that week. Haddock agreed, saying his birthday was also that week. Meanwhile, state prosecutor Clark Morris noted they weren't the only ones risking court dates on important personal dates, as her husband's birthday was Tuesday.
The three then agreed on June 15. Haddock said it would be a firm trial date, with trial to begin at 9 a.m.
Patterson is accused of using his position as a district court judge, in which he supervised the county's judicial court system, to obtain $47,008.24 from the county's juvenile court services fund. He is further charged with financial exploitation of the elderly related to an alleged breach of fiduciary duty to Charles Hardy, in order to obtain all or part of $47,800 in Hardy's conservatorship account.
Finally, Patterson is accused of obtaining or exerting control over a sum of money between $99 and $1,500 belonging to the estate of Rudolph Allen, either without authorization or by deception.
The use of office for personal gain and financial exploitation charges are Class B felonies each punishable upon conviction by two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $30,000. The theft charge is a Class D felony punishable by a year and one day or up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $7,500.