Trial underway for Jefferson Co. judge accused of disobeying court order, misleading colleagues
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tracie Todd is back in the courtroom this week, but in a far different capacity. She’s standing trial for reportedly violating various Canons of Judicial Ethics.
Of the more than 600 judges in Alabama, few face formal complaints and go to trial. This marks Todd’s second trial in less than 10 months.
BACKGROUND: Complaints filed against judges are investigated by the Judicial Inquiry Commission, or JIC. If there’s cause to believe an Alabama judge violated the Cannons of Judicial Ethics, the JIC files a complaint against that judge. The case is tried before a panel of nine appointed judges called the Court of the Judiciary, or COJ.
In December 2021 the COJ found Todd violated multiple Canons of Judicial Ethics. As a result, she was sentenced to work 90 days without pay starting on December 6, 2021. Todd had been suspended from the bench with pay for nine months prior, which is standard procedure after a complaint is filed against a judge.
The JIC argues that following Todd’s reinstatement, she refused to work and misled judicial colleagues about her preparations to return to the bench.
During opening statements Monday, JIC attorney John Selden reported during Todd’s first month of work, she was in Chicago where her husband lives. Something Seldon alleged Todd tried to conceal from the court.
“What did she do in December,” Seldon asked. “She made a conscious and deliberate action not to work.”
During this time, Todd was in communication with other judges regarding her caseload but didn’t log into the state’s court system from the time she was reinstated on December 6 until early March 2022.
“I guess she thought we weren’t going to check,” Seldon told the COJ.
The JIC maintains Todd was notified of their investigation on February 3, 2022. The next business day she filed 113 orders, many which were repetitive, according to the JIC.
“If judges refused to comply with orders from superior courts, how can the judiciary function and how can the public have any confidence,” questioned Seldon.
Todd’s attorney Edward Ungvarsky quickly responded to the JIC’s allegations, stressing his client was innocent on all counts.
Ungvarsky admitted Todd was in Chicago with family prior to her reinstatement. During that time her children tested positive for COVID-19 and she then became very ill. Due to quarantine parameters, Ungvarsky told the COJ Todd was unable to travel back to Alabama. Despite her sickness, he said Todd continued to work by corresponding with her judicial assistant who was managing their new caseload.
“You will see Judge Todd convened her staff to activate her office, managed her docket consistent with the independence given to each circuit judge,” Ungvarsky reported. “All urgent and emergency matters were handled without delay.”
Due to working virtually, Todd relied on other judges for hearings that required immediate action.
“She respects this court’s supervisory authority, she didn’t ignore and flaunt the order,” added Ungvarsky.
If found guilty, Todd could face a range of penalties included being removed from the bench. The trial expected to end by midweek.
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