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Defense: Judge was trying to mentor, not paddle, inmates

  • Story Highlights
  • Defense lawyer: Ex-Alabama judge was mentoring inmates, not seeking sex
  • Ex-Judge Herman Thomas accused of paddling inmates in exchange for leniency
  • Eleven alleged victims and 51 counts involved after some cases dismissed
  • Thomas has denied allegations
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(CNN) -- A former Alabama judge is standing trial on charges he checked male inmates out of jail and forced them to engage in sexual activity such as paddling in exchange for leniency.

Former Mobile County Circuit Judge Herman Thomas denies all the charges, his attorney says.

Former Mobile County Circuit Judge Herman Thomas denies all the charges, his attorney says.

Former Mobile County Circuit Judge Herman Thomas at one point faced more than 100 criminal counts in the case, including kidnapping, sexual abuse, extortion and sodomy. Prosecutors filed cases relating to 15 alleged victims, with multiple counts in each case.

But four of those cases have been dismissed -- some thrown out by a judge because the statute of limitations expired and others because prosecutors decided not to present evidence relating to them -- leaving 11 alleged victims and 51 counts, according to defense attorney Robert Clark and CNN affiliate WKRG-TV.

Retired Marengo County Judge Claud Neilson dismissed jurors Tuesday while attorneys argued whether the jury should be allowed to consider kidnapping, extortion or assault charges, WKRG reported. Neilson already has ruled there is enough evidence for jurors to consider the sex abuse charges.

Thomas, 48, has pleaded not guilty and has denied any wrongdoing. Clark told CNN on Tuesday that Thomas was trying to mentor the inmates and did not assault them.

"The whole thing is, he tried to help people in this community," Clark said. "He helped thousands to grow up and be productive citizens."

The judge does not deny bringing the inmates into his office, Clark said. "He was mentoring them. He was trying to get them to do right, to be productive citizens."

One of the alleged victims testified Monday that he doesn't know why his semen was found on the carpet of a small room used as an office by Thomas, according to The Mobile Press-Register newspaper. But he did say Thomas spanked him with a belt on several occasions, the newspaper reported, and that the paddlings took place inside a jury room, in the small office and at a Mobile fraternity house.

Another man testified that after he was charged with kidnapping and robbery in 2002, Thomas visited him in jail and urged the man to let Thomas decide the case instead of a jury, according to the Press-Register. Thomas convicted him of lesser charges, he testified, and sentenced him to a 90-day boot camp. He said Thomas also beat him with a belt on his bare buttocks about a dozen times at the courthouse, the newspaper reported. Neither man was identified.

"All of them [the alleged victims] were given preferential treatment at some point," Nicki Patterson, chief assistant district attorney for Mobile County, told CNN earlier this month.

"And ultimately, when some of them refused to continue participating [in the activities], they were given what I would view as excessive sentences. But certainly while the inmates were involved with the activities we allege, the state would say, it was extremely lenient sentences."

However, "two of the individuals said he [Thomas] did nothing bad to them," Clark said Tuesday. "That he didn't paddle them. That he only helped them. ... I mean, the last guy that testified was a murderer. And he's complaining he got assaulted. 'I got assaulted,' -- yeah, right."

Asked whether Thomas admits paddling the men, Clark said, "I didn't say either way. ... I'm saying there ain't no sexual innuendoes."

Neilson has heard arguments on whether an expert should be allowed to testify about sexual fetishes for the prosecution. Clark said the expert has not interviewed any of the alleged victims and that he fails to see how the testimony fits into the case.

Neilson was brought in to hear the case after all the Mobile County Circuit judges recused themselves -- standard procedure in a case involving another judge.

Thomas resigned from the bench in October 2007 before he was scheduled to stand trial before the Alabama Court of the Judiciary on multiple ethics violations charges. The complaint, dismissed after the resignation, accused him of "extrajudiciary personal contact" with some defendants but does not refer to any sexual contact.

In April, Thomas told WKRG the allegations against him are false, but the most important thing for him was making sure his wife and two daughters were taken care of.

"I'm not guilty, and I look forward to being a part of the community that's supported me and I've supported my entire life," he said.

The Alabama State Bar suspended Thomas' law license in January after a grand jury handed up the first of two indictments against him. In April, the bar's disciplinary commission upheld the suspension, WKRG reported, despite the fact that Thomas under oath denied all the allegations in the first indictment. The second indictment was returned in August.

CNN's Carolina Sanchez contributed to this report.

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