MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Oct. 4) -- Herman Thomas had an enviable political record as a black Democrat elected and re-elected in a county overwhelmingly white and increasingly Republican. The respected circuit judge once was the Democratic Party's choice to be the first black federal judge in south Alabama.
Then his career collapsed under allegations that he brought inmates to his office and spanked them with a paddle. Later, an indictment accused him of sexually abusing male inmates in exchange for leniency. The trial on charges of sodomy, kidnapping, sex abuse, extortion, assault and ethics violations is set to start Monday.
The case has shocked his friends and former colleagues.
"I've always had the highest regard for him. The allegations were a complete surprise to me and everyone else who knew him," said Bob Edington, a prominent Mobile attorney and former Democratic state senator.
Thomas, who was known for wearing distinctive bow ties, stepped down from the bench in 2007 after the allegations of paddling surfaced and just ahead of a judicial ethics trial that could have forced him out of office. He was indicted on the more-serious charges this past spring by a Mobile County grand jury. If convicted of the most serious charges — sodomy and kidnapping — he faces from 20 years to life in prison.