JeffCo. judge suspended without pay for judicial ethics violation

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tracie Todd discusses ruling.
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tracie Todd discusses ruling.(WBRC)
Published: Oct. 18, 2022 at 6:40 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 18, 2022 at 7:14 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WBRC) - Jefferson County Criminal Circuit Court Judge Tracie Todd is suspended for 120 days without pay for judicial ethics violation.

On Tuesday, the Court of the Judiciary, or COJ, issued its second sanction for Todd in less than a year. It found clear and convincing evidence that Todd failed to fully comply with a superior court’s order.

TIMELINE

  • Todd was found guilty of violating Canons of Judicial Ethics in December 2021 following an eight-month paid suspension.
  • Todd was reinstated in December 2021 and ordered to serve 90 days without pay.
  • A new complaint was filed against Todd in March 2022 alleging she disobeyed that order and misled the court regarding her return to judicial service.
  • The COJ found Todd guilty of one charge ordering a 120 day suspension without pay.

The COJ, a nine-person panel who hears complaints lodged against judges, found Todd did not follow its December 2021 order to return to judicial service. However, it did not find clear and convincing evidence that Todd misled her colleagues and the Court regarding her reinstatement. The order noted the third charge which accused Todd of failing to make provisions for her cases was redundant and, ‘subsumed under charge 1.′

Evidence and testimony during the trial indicated Todd was in Chicago, where her husband and children reside, when she was ordered to return to service. Due to multiple quarantines and falling ill, Todd did not return to Alabama for weeks.

The case was brought by the Judicial Inquiry Commission or JIC, who acts as a prosecutor during these proceedings.

The JIC admitted evidence and called witnesses in an effort to show Todd attempted to conceal she was in Chicago for weeks following her reinstatement and she wasn’t working as ordered by the COJ. The JIC pointed to records that showed Todd didn’t log into the state court software from December 2021 through March 2022. Todd was reassigned new cases in January 2022. The JIC argued Todd didn’t make plans for her cases and litigants showed up to hearings her office failed to reschedule.

Todd’s defense argued she never concealed her location and she was working remotely by directing staff members. They showed Todd didn’t directly interface with the court software, a task she left to her judicial assistant.

In a rare move, Todd testified for a combined six hours in her own defense.

JIC Executive Director Elizabeth Bern asked Todd if she was trying to conceal her location, referencing an email Todd sent to her colleague Judge Michael Streety.

“I haven’t ventured out yet to pick up my return to work slip due to a cough,” Todd wrote in an email to Streety while in Chicago, referring to her doctor in Birmingham.

Todd denied she was trying to hide her location.

“I didn’t conceal it, I didn’t disclose it,” she answered.

The JIC also alleged Todd didn’t make provisions for assigned cases. Todd was assigned a new caseload in early January. While she directed her judicial assistant to pull together information about those cases, no orders were issued to reset hearing dates which were assigned by the prior judge. Some of those litigants appeared for a hearing and Todd wasn’t present. The JIC argued Todd’s cases were largely untouched until she was notified she was under investigation.

During closing arguments, Todd’s defense attorney Edward Ungvarsky said no one was immediately affected and no requests for hearings were denied.

“I acknowledge more could have been done, that this could have been better, but she did make provisions,” explained Ungvarsky.

Ungvarsky argued Todd returned to service, directed her staff members to reopen the office while she was in Chicago.

Todd has been suspended with pay for the majority of 2021 and 2022 due to the two JIC complaints, which is protocol during COJ proceedings.

The Court of the Judiciary consists of four judges: an appellate judge, two circuit judges and one district judge; two members of the Alabama Bar Association and two non-lawyers, appointed by the governor and lieutenant governor.

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