Trial paused for JeffCo judge accused of disobeying state sanction
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WBRC) - Attorneys hit pause on Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tracie Todd’s trial on Tuesday, August 16, 2022. The trial was scheduled for two days but will require additional time.
Todd was standing trial for reportedly violating multiple Canons of Judicial Ethics.
- Todd was found guilty of violating several Canons of Judicial Ethics in December 2021 following an eight-month paid suspension.
- Todd was reinstated in December 2021 and ordered by the Court of the Judiciary, a panel of nine judges who hear judicial complaints, to serve 90 days without pay.
- A new complaint was filed against Todd three months later alleging she disobeyed that order and misled the court. The Judicial Inquiry Commission or JIC, investigates complaints against judges. If it’s believed a judge violated a Canon of Judicial Ethics, the JIC will file a lawsuit and the judge is immediately suspended with pay until the case is adjudicated.
Day two of the trial focused on Todd’s absence following her reinstatement and the impact that had on fellow circuit judges and attorneys.
Todd’s legal team maintains Todd was in Chicago, where her husband lives, prior to her reinstatement in December 2021. Shortly after she was ordered to return to the courtroom, Todd experienced family sickness and was required to quarantine. She later fell ill and didn’t return to Alabama until mid-February.
The JIC alleges the lack of communication from Todd during this time created confusion and frustration at the courthouse. Testimony indicated some of the cases that were assigned back to Todd’s docket after her reinstatement weren’t reset by her office, prompting attorneys and defendants to show up to court and she wasn’t present. Other JIC witnesses explained Todd failed to log into the state’s court software, Alacourt, from December until March.
Jefferson County Circuit Judges Michael Streety, Ketchia Davis, Teresa Pulliam and Elizabeth French were called by the JIC to testify.
Davis and Pulliam spoke to the confusion they encountered when attorneys and defendants showed up to Todd’s courtroom for a hearing and no one was present or couldn’t get an answer on the disposition of their cases.
“Defendants were showing up to me, I would have my bailiff go up with them [to Todd’s courtroom] and on occasion the office was dark and doors were locked,” Pulliam stated.
The Court of the Judiciary asked the judges how often they logged into Alacourt, what they monitored there and how often they were at the courthouse. All stated they logged in daily and responded to motions.
“If you don’t go through there and tend to those motions, they will stack up,” explained Pulliam.
Most judges testified they worked in the courthouse through the early stages of COVID by conducting virtual hearings from their offices, though most are now conducting all business in person.
Jefferson County Assistant District Attorney Amanda Wineman testified about an urgent hearing needed for a case that was transferred back to Todd’s docket. In this situation, Judge Streety was on duty for emergency hearings and heard this case which had immediate implications involving victims of child abuse.
Todd’s team referred back to emails during cross examination that indicated Todd was in communication and was working virtually in Chicago. The JIC in turn pointed back to emails where Todd failed to address direct questions about how to address attorneys and prosecutors who were asking questions about her docket. While her office didn’t have direct information on Todd’s docket and when it would resume, most knew all urgent matters involving Todd’s cases would need to go before the on-call judge.
The defense began calling witnesses Tuesday afternoon. They called Jefferson County District Judges William Bell and Katrina Ross.
Bell spoke to his decades-long relationship with Todd and testified that he found her trustworthy. When the defense asked if she lied, Bell paused and replied ‘no.’
Ross’s courtroom operates differently than other judges who testified Tuesday. Her judicial assistant enters orders on her behalf, something Todd’s assistant also did to help during her absence.
“Can you do your job without using Alacourt?” asked Edward Ungvarsky, who represents Todd. “Yes, she does everything,” Ross responded.
When asked if Todd was honest, Ross replied, “As far as I know she’s honest, she’s never lied to me.”
The COJ is expected to file an order on when the trial will resume. Due to the complexities of scheduling with nine judges and multiple attorneys, it could be weeks. If found guilty, Todd could face a range of sanctions, including being removed from the bench.
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