judge_warnerJust days after Patricia Warner suddenly stepped down as a family court judge, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary issued a 74-charge complaint that accused her of taking thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from gambling interests and then deciding questionably in a child custody case involving VictoryLand casino owner Milton McGregor's daughter.

The complaint also mentioned that 27 of 29 of her cases that were appealed were reversed.

Much of the complaint involved the case of McGregor's daughter in which Warner refused to recuse herself even after the Judicial Inquiry Commission advised her that she should do so for cases in which someone involved in the case has filed a complaint against a judge, and even after she recused herself in other cases where someone filed a complaint against her.

During Warner's re-election campaign last year, the judge accepted $20,750 in campaign contributions from political action committees that were controlled by John Crawford, who is a lobbyist for McGregor and the father of Warner's staff attorney, according to the complaint. These contributions amounted to more than half of Warner's total campaign contributions last year.

These charges were among the dozens included in a complaint that was served to Warner's attor- ney, Charles Dauphin, just before 4 p.m. Monday and then publicly released after that. Attempts to reach both Dauphin and Warner on Monday were unsuccessful.

Among other charges, the complaint accuses her of being hostile and inappropriate in and out of the courtroom, neglecting to apply the law to her rulings and failing to order a protection from abuse order for an abuse victim who, about a month later, needed 24 stitches after her estranged husband threw a metal stapler at her head.

"I believe this particular individual, Patricia Warner, is one of the most corrupt judges that has ever sat on the bench ... So many people knew she was doing these things and stood idly by. I want to commend the strong people -- and I think there will be more -- who stuck their neck out and filed a complaint against her," said Mark Montiel, who is the attorney for McGregor's former son-in-law, Todd Brown.

 

Montiel could not discuss the details of the Brown case because Warner ordered that the case be sealed. But the complaint stated that Warner violated the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics in 11 different ways just in the Brown case.

"As a result of Judge Warner's misconduct, Mr. (Todd) Brown has not been permitted to see his children in approximately two years," according to the complaint.

One of the six counts in the complaint also accused Warner of failing to correctly apply the law to her cases, which was an issue that came to the surface during the Democratic Primary last summer. Challenger Kathy Brown made Warner's reversal rate a key part of Brown's campaign against the incumbent.

The Judicial Inquiry Commission apparently agreed that Warner's performance was poor enough to be included in the civil complaint against her:

"Her disregard of (legal) standards, although given specific notice by the appellate courts, further evidences her bad faith and her intentional disregard of her duty to decide cases based on the law and the facts presented to her court in handling the matters alleged (in this complaint)," according to the complaint served Monday.

Of 29 cases where Warner's judgment was questioned, the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed only two, according to the complaint.

"The other twenty-seven appellate opinions all pointed out major flaws requiring reversal in Judge Warner's handling of each case. In most cases, Judge Warner's legal errors were clear and obviously warranted reversal," according to the complaint.

Warner, who fought a tough re-election campaign last year, was not even six months into her second term in office as Place 7 Family Court Judge when she submitted a letter to Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb on June 9. The letter states that she planned to retire July 15 and that she wanted her "retirement package" sent to her.

A week after submitting that letter, Warner abruptly abandoned her seat Wednesday -- a full month earlier than initially stated -- leaving Presiding Circuit Court Judge Charles Price to name a special judge to serve until Gov. Robert Bentley could name a replacement.

Now that the detailed, 127-page complaint has been issued against Warner, attorneys representing the complainants will first fight to keep her sudden retirement from preventing the complaint from going to trial.

"That's going to be the first battle," Montiel said.

Of course, while Montiel has set his sights on making the case go to trial, the commission is looking at possibly going after Warner's retirement.

John Wilkerson, secretary for the Court of the Judiciary, said lowering or taking away a judge's retirement has been done before as part of an agreement, but it has never been imposed on a judge without consent. The commission wants to set that precedent, Wilkerson added.

Summary of other counts:

  • Warner acted in bad faith when she disregarded the undisputed facts in a 2007 child support case and awarded the father to pay thousands less than what he admittedly owed the mother of his child. Warner reportedly made comments about the mother's "excessive" standard of living.
  • Warner stripped a mother's custody, "based solely on argument of counsel and without any evidence whatsoever," and then revoked her visitation with her special needs daughter and required all conversations between them to be recorded. She ultimately awarded custody to the father, who was experiencing psychological issues.
  • Warner also appointed her longtime friend to serve as guardian ad litem in the 2009 case.


The Court of Civil Appeals voided several of her determinations in this case and remanded the case back to Warner with the instructions that she reconsider the custody in light of the father's mental state and that she adjust the alimony and division or property more fairly.

  • Lastly, Warner "stripped (a mother) of physical custody without sufficient supporting allegations, without a hearing and without affording (the mother) an opportunity to respond or submit evidence in her defense" in a 2005 child custody dispute, according to the complaint.
  • Warner will have 30 days to respond to the complaint.


Reporter Scott Johnson contributed to this report.

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