Despite recusal, the Brookside judge remains unfavorable

Despite recusal, the Brookside judge remains unfavorable ...

Judge Jim Wooten was always confronted with legal misogyny when he was asked about his role in the aggressive prosecution of driver in Brookside.

The first of three lawsuits alleging that he did not pay business license taxes for his office continued until Wooten moved his practice out of the big city in 2020.

A lawsuit was filed by one of Wooten's own relatives in 2020, accusing him of stealing money from her mother when she was a kid.

No one was paying attention to the judge or his problems, apologies say until Brookside, a 1,253 square mile north of Birmingham, became a national example of policing for profit.

Since January, Wooten encountered a situation when he explained how Brookside officers intimidated and packed the town's small courtroom, utilizing newfound money from penalties and forfeitures to expand the police force.

The judge was one of three key figures in the aggressive prosecution of drivers the other one were Mark Parnell, the prosecutor and town attorney, and Mike Jones, the former police chief who was in the wake of the investigation.

In February, the town was suspended, according to Mayor Mike Bryan, but Judge Wooten will not be the presumption of all the pending cases.

Wooten said that any allegations of misconduct he receives as a judge are false in an order recusing himself from all pending instances in the city.

However, the court is aware and aware that such accusations, public opinion, and desire may reasonably incite the undersigned's impartiality in any case currently pending before him. Therefore, the undersigned hereby recuses himself from any and all cases currently pending before the court as of the date of this order.

Despite Wooten's announcement, he will not step down. After hearing from dozens of people who pleaded guilty to fraud in his court, Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, urged the state attorney general to investigate the judge.

"Jim Wooten should step down, because he has aided and defended his actions," she told reporters at the Alabama State House in Montgomery a week after the investigation was published.

Wooten said he reacted to the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics, a set of regles that govern how judges should act.

"As the undersigned has, at all times, performed himself in accordance with all laws and rules of the State of Alabama, his choice would be solely due to the influence of public opinion and a despisation, which he has previously declared.

In a previous statement to Wooten, he defended his record, declaring that he always decides cases on their individual merits and treats everyone with respect.

"I have no authority over the number of tickets written," Wooten said. "(B)y law, which is under the control of the police department, and particularly in the case of Brookside, until Chief Mike Jones' resignation. I had no knowledge of his actions or directives about the amount of tickets offered."

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Wooten was the town judge long before Brookside hired Jones in 2018, when it began to add police officers to its force and sparked so many criminal cases.

As the Brookside Police Department expanded, bringing more people to Wooten's courtroom, state and federal lawsuits began rolling out. In the past, several lines commenced before Wooten on charges as minor as tag-light violations or driving in the left lane. Neither speed or failing to signal, and only using the left lane.

During his personal life, the judge began dealing with legal issues.

After his niece accused him of stealing money from her inheritance when she was a child, Wooten agreed to pay more than $200,000 to resolve lawsuits.

In 2020, Wooten's niece filed a lawsuit alleging that while she was administrator of her late father's estate, her Uncle Jim distributed more than $200,000 of her inheritance to his personal and business accounts. Wooten was in charge of the estate since 2006, when his nephew was 7 years old.

Wooten told reporters that during his 13 years at the time when he handled the estate, he received an average of $16,200 per year, or more than he paid in a year from Brookside.

My duties were paid from the estate by law, he said.

According to Wooten, the lawsuit was settled late last year due to an agreement that he paid Western Surety more than $250,000.

According to court records, Wooten agreed to have a judgment filed against him for $262,668 when the company filed a lawsuit last year seeking the payment.

I did not agree to a settlement because of any misconduct, as did many defendants in many cases, Wooten said. I did so so to avoid mounting legal expenses and potentially related expenses I may have owed to the bonding company as well as to my own counsel.

Attorneys for Wooten's niece said a confidentiality requirement prohibits them from talking about the case. An attorney for the insurance company declined to comment.

Wooten claims to have paid $262,668 in cash and is waiting for the insurance company to confirm in court records that they have received the payment.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Wooten, who is 59, has served as the judge in Brookside since 2009.

A photo obtained from the Birmingham News shortly after he was first elected in 2008.File photo/The Birmingham News

Wooten said: "It's a title, and I'm grateful and proud to have it, but I don't expect anyone to see me judge."

"I'm a part-time judge," he said. "I'm a full-time lawyer, husband, and father."

At the time of his retirement, Brookside had court proceedings just one night per month. Fortunately, there aren't a lot of municipal violations in it, Wooten told The News.

More recent, as police drew over and arrested more people, the number of instances increased, and the town had court proceedings twice a month after COVID sparked a backlog. More cases also increased the amount of work hours and thus for Wooten. In Brookside in 2021, he earned $20,000.

Wooten may return to the bench in Brookside, but he had announced that he would take the position of retaliation from cases filed before April 4. He declined to answer questions.

Wooten has served as a lawyer in the Birmingham area since 1987.

He was found guilty of paying business license fees for his law office three times in the past 13 years. A court has ruled that a Jefferson County judge put a lock on Wooten's law office until he paid $8,279 in taxes, interest, and penalties.

In a lawsuit, the city said that Wooten had not paid the taxes for a period from 2003 to 2008. In 2011, the case was dismissed, but the reasons for the suspension are not included in court records.

The city was sued two times more in 2015 and 2017 after claiming Wooten had not paid business license taxes. A judge dismissed the 2015 lawsuit, alleging that Wooten had paid "all amounts due." In the most recent case, Wooten reached a settlement. But the facts of the settlement have not been revealed in court records.

Wooten said he was in a political conflict with the city about imposing taxes on household income outside Birmingham. In 2020, he moved his office out of the city. An attorney for the city has declined to comment.

Fellow lawyers have raised questions about how Wooten presides over Brookside's court.

In one case, a man named Anyl Pascal and his attorney allege in court records that Judge Wooten found him guilty of nine additional charges that he did not know.

Pascal was found guilty of seven charges after leaving Brookside court that day. The judge, according to an appeal by Pascal's attorney, doubled his fine to over $15,000.

Gravlee, who works as a part-time judge in Walker County, claims that neither he nor his client were aware of the additional charges until they were dismissed two weeks later.

Wooten disputed these statements in his statement to him. He said both Pascal and his attorney obtained copies of all allegations and were in court when he fined him.

At no time have I ever allowed a Defendant to plead guilty nor found a Defendant guilty unless they were present in court and understood the charges and pleaded guilty, Wooten said. Mr. Pascal is no exception.

After the Brookside prosecutor, a Jefferson County judge dismissed Pascal's criminal case.

Last month, the same judge sentenced 11 people to an appeal from Wooten's tribunal.

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Brookside has been accused of at least a dozen lawsuits and multiple state investigations since January.

In one federal lawsuit alleges Brookside and its police officers conspiring with a towing company to steal money and property, Wooten is not named as a defendant in any of the lawsuits, although the town's court is a co-conspirator.

The lawsuit alleges that the court levied "excessive" fines that exceed the permitted by state law and Alabama's Justice Rules. Brookside is seeking to pay back the money and pay damages to anyone who has been ordered to pay excessive fines.

Allan Armstrong, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit, said that they did not mention Wooten as a defendant because judges and prosecutions are protected by immunity.

If we were to sue the judge and prosecutor, they would be summarily dismissed based on prosecution and judicial immunity, Armstrong said. That's why the judge and prosecutor haven't been sued.

Wooten said that every fine, court costs, and bond he has ever ordered was reasonable. "The Court has implemented several programs to assist citizens with payment of fines and charges."

John Archibald of South Africa has contributed to this piece.

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