What to do with a former judge's retirement funds and how it would affect his upcoming criminal trial were the main topics of a hearing Thursday in the Limestone County Courthouse.
Court records state Douglas Patterson submitted a request July 13 to the Retirement Systems of Alabama asking for a return of mandatory contributions that were taken from his salary while he served as a district court judge in Limestone County. The request was submitted a few days after Patterson resigned from his position as judge, though he had been on paid leave since September 2019, when state court officials confirmed he was under investigation.
Patterson was indicted in December 2019 on charges of using his official position or office for personal gain, first-degree financial exploitation of the elderly and third-degree theft of property. The State of Alabama filed a petition for forfeiture of the retirement funds July 28, explaining Thursday in front of Judge Stephen Haddock that the funds should be preserved in case Patterson is found guilty and has to pay a large restitution or other costs.
However, Patterson and his defense attorney, Chuck Warren, argued such a forfeiture would violate Patterson's 6th Amendment right to counsel by taking away funds that would otherwise pay for his defense in the criminal trial. Patterson testified that since retaining Warren, he had accumulated several thousand in legal fees, with more costs expected as they sought out expert witnesses and forensic accounting.
Patterson said he was employed but making significantly less than he had as a judge, and he and his family had "relied on the kindness of others from time to time" to make ends meet. He testified he was paying his attorney $200 an hour, which in his experience was "standard," and despite the financial struggle, he had no intentions of filing for a court-appointed attorney when there was $36,602.36 possibly available from the RSA.
Assistant Attorney General Kyle Beckham said ultimately, the state did not want the amount handed over to Patterson in full to be used on whatever Patterson saw fit, suggesting the funds instead be handed over to the court for distribution as needed to pay for legal expenses. Haddock noted that despite receiving a judge's salary for several months after his indictment and after retaining Warren, documents provided by the defense showed Patterson had only made one payment for about one-fourth of the legal fees owed.
Court orders related to Thursday's hearing were not publicly available by The News Courier's press deadline Friday. However, during the hearing, Haddock said he was leaning toward placing the funds in an account that would be managed throughout the trial to cover the legal services for Patterson's defense.
The forfeiture petition was part of a separate case in civil court, and the defense had filed motions in that case as well as a motion to continue the criminal case until the civil case was resolved. Haddock previously said the Nov. 16 start date for the criminal trial would be a firm one, and he said Thursday he planned to keep that date. A hearing on any motions in limine remains set for 10 a.m. Nov. 4.
In the criminal case, the first count — use of official position or office for personal gain — arises from Patterson’s service as a district court judge, which includes his supervising the county’s juvenile court system. It alleges Patterson used his position as a judge to obtain $47,008.24 from the county’s juvenile court services fund.
The second count — first-degree financial exploitation of the elderly — alleges Patterson breached a fiduciary duty to Charles Hardy in order to obtain all or part of $47,800 in Hardy’s conservatorship account.
The third count — third-degree theft of property — alleges Patterson knowingly obtained or exerted unauthorized control over or knowingly obtained by deception control over a sum of money that exceeded $499 but was less than $1,500 and that belonged to the estate of Rudolph Allen.
The first two 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.