huntsville, alabama, city

Prosecutors denounce former Limestone judge Doug Patterson, seek 5-year prison term

LIMESTONE COUNTY, Ala. — The State of Alabama is seeking a five-year prison term for former Limestone County District Judge Doug Patterson, who pleaded guilty last month to theft and ethics charges including stealing from a court-supervised juvenile fund.

The state’s filing memo asks Judge Steven Haddock to impose the sentence and harshly denounces Patterson’s conduct.

“The audacity and wickedness of Patterson’s crimes cannot be overstated: he stole from the disabled, he stole from the dead, and he stole from the children of Limestone County,” the filing argues. “In short, Patterson stole from those who couldn’t protect themselves. While every thief deserves condemnation, Patterson falls in a category all his own.”

Patterson’s sentencing hearing is set for Dec. 8.

Patterson, who was appointed to the judgeship in April 2016, was indicted in December 2019.

Last month he pleaded guilty to charges of using his office for personal gain, financial exploitation of the elderly in the first degree and third-degree theft of property. The first two charges are Class B felonies which carry a sentencing range of 2 to 20 years in prison. The third-degree theft charge is a Class D felony, which has a sentencing range of 1 to 5 years in prison.

Prosecutors from the Alabama Attorney General’s office are asking the court to sentence Patterson to five years in prison on the first two counts and two years on the third count. They are asking that the sentences run concurrently – at the same time – and that Patterson serve 10 years of probation upon release. Prosecutors are seeking what is known as a “split sentence” which starts with a base sentence of 15 years, with 5 years to serve in prison and 10 years on probation.

The case against Patterson took several turns. About a month after he was indicted, a confession letter, apparently from Patterson was released publicly. Patterson’s defense team also filed motions seeking information about the grand jurors who indicted him – which is highly unusual. The defense also alleged that Limestone County Circuit Judge Robert Baker – the county’s presiding judge — had influenced the grand jury and tried to intimidate Patterson into a guilty plea before his indictment.

The trial judge rejected those claims.

Patterson was placed on paid leave before he was indicted and he received his regular salary until his resignation from the bench in July, shortly before he was set to go on trial for ethics violations before Alabama Court of the Judiciary. The state’s sentencing memo said Patterson was paid $114,000 in salary while on leave.

The state’s argument doesn’t credit Patterson for his former position in the community, instead it uses that as part of its sharp attack on the defendant.

“ … Any good character or reputation that Patterson established was built on years of lies and subterfuge,” the filing argues. “Patterson should not benefit now from how he was looked upon before his community learned how he truly behaved. This same logic carries over to Patterson’s employment history. That is, Patterson cannot credit himself with a positive employment history when he was only able to commit his crimes because of his employment as an attorney and a judge.”

The filing also contends that the sentence is justified because Patterson held public office while committing some of the crimes and before that, he was the lawyer for disabled and elderly clients and had a fiduciary duty to protect their interests.

“ … Patterson began stealing from the court system he ostensibly served nearly from the moment he took the bench and continued stealing right up until he was suspended,” the filing argues. Making matters worse, Patterson often exercised his judicial discretion to impose additional costs and fees in certain cases, thus allowing him to steal even more money.”

The filing says it is “shameful” to victimize someone you’ve pledged to protect, but to do so to three different victims is “unconscionable.”

The filing argues, “two of Patterson’s victims were especially vulnerable due to their age, infirmity, and reduced physical capacity. What makes this aggravating factor particularly reprehensible and applicable in this case is that these very weaknesses appear to be why Patterson became their conservators in the first place. Patterson did not prey on those on equal footing; he preyed on the weak.”    

The filing argues that Patterson’s crimes also involved “great monetary value.

“Patterson stole $47,800 from a disabled veteran, and even after his partial repayment, he left Hardy’s daughter with less than half of what she should have inherited from her father’s conservatorship account. Patterson also stole $47,008 from the County’s juvenile fund, leaving an account meant to support Limestone County’s must vulnerable children entirely depleted.”

The filing finally argues that across the country lawyers and judges “earn significant punishments” when they violate criminal laws.

“When powerful people commit crimes, powerful consequences should follow. It is particularly in cases like this that citizens look to their courts to see if there is equal justice under the law,” the filing argues. “It may be true that powerful defendants suffer more collateral consequences—the loss of reputation, job, and status—than average defendants. But these penalties are largely outside the scope of the law and the Court’s duty at sentencing.

“As such, they do not obviate the need for a significant custodial sentence when the gravity of the crime and its consequences support it. For more than six years, Patterson tarnished the law as a lawyer and as a judge. The harm he caused the Limestone County Judicial system was deep and profound.”

Patterson’s attorney did not immediately respond with comment.

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