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Court of the Judiciary finds Montgomery judge guilty of violating judicial ethics

Chip Brownlee

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Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—The Alabama Court of the Judiciary on Thursday found Montgomery Municipal Judge Les Hayes guilty on seven charges of violating the Canons of Judicial Ethics in connection to his use of a questionable private-probation company.

The Court, the Judicial Inquiry Commission and Mr. Hayes’ attorneys reached a plea agreement on Jan. 5.

With the agreement, Hayes was found guilty of counts one through seven of the complaint filed by JIC and will be suspended without pay for 11 months. The suspension will include time served since Mr. Hayes was suspended automatically in November when the Judicial Inquiry Commission first filed charges against him.

In addition to his suspension, Mr. Hayes must pay for the costs of the Court’s proceedings and costs incurred by the Judicial Inquiry Commission, amounting to more than $4,312.

JIC charged Mr. Hayes with displaying little regard for Federal and State law in the way he incarcerated traffic offenders and misdemeanants for their failures to pay traffic tickets, and focuses on Mr. Hayes use of a private-probation company to collect traffic fines.

Mr. Hayes would often refer defendants in his court, largely the individuals who had traffic violations and had issues paying their fines and costs, to a private-probation company called Judicial Correction Services — the same private probation company that was ordered to pay a settlement to several Clanton residents for threatening them with jail time and other fines for failing to pay their traffic tickets and for failing to comply with JCS’ payment plans.

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JCS ceased operations in Alabama in 2015 after numerous lawsuits were filed against them for their collection practices, which many say amount to illegal, modern-day “debtors prisons.” Since Mr. Hayes became a municipal judge, at least five lawsuits were filed against the Montgomery Municipal Court.

Charge 1 alleged Mr. Hayes would incarcerate indigent traffic offenders for failing to pay fines and costs without “first making sufficient inquiry into the offenders’ financial, employment and family standing,” in violation of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics.

Charge 2 alleged Mr. Hayes delegated government functions to JCS, a private, non-judicial company and would permit them to use extralegal means to collect fines and costs. According to the JIC complaint, JCS used inappropriate collection methods in several cases connected to Mr. Hayes, and Mr. Hayes did not provide proper oversight or regard for the defendants he placed under JCS’ supervision.

One defendant, Willie Williams, was ordered to pay $263 for a traffic ticket. Mr. Williams, who is an indigent resident of Montgomery, according to the JIC complaint, was put on a payment plan of $140 a month for 12 months.

“At that rate, Mr. Williams could have paid off the court-ordered financial assessment in approximately three months,” the complaint read.

Nevertheless, over the next five months, Mr. Williams paid more than $240 to JCS, but only about $146 went toward his court fines and costs. The private probation company kept more than $100 of Mr. Williams payment.

Despite Mr. Williams payment, Mr. Hayes, who was handing his case in Montgomery Municipal Court, on July 2, 2010 set a court date for the next day, July 3.

Mr. Williams failed to appear, and Mr. Hayes subsequently issued a warrant for his arrest. Mr. Williams was later incarcerated by another judge for four days, despite paying more nearly all of his ticket costs to JCS.

At the time Mr. Hayes served as a judge in the Montgomery Municipal Court, the City saw revenues from their Municipal Court that were three- to four-times higher than other large Alabama cities like Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville despite a smaller case load, thanks largely in part to the City’s questionable ticketing practices.

According to the complaint, Mr. Hayes would allow JCS to place other defendants on terms of “probation”, to determine the length of their “probation” and set their monthly payment amounts.

Most of the defendants had not been issued suspended sentences by a court judge, and, under Alabama law, those individuals would not have even been eligible for any type of probation because they had not been sentenced any prison time.

Other charges accused Mr. Hayes of failing to allow defendants to explain why they didn’t pay their fines, not signing court orders and records, allowing bad record-keeping practices, and incarcerating defendants without any legal orders.

With the plea deal, Mr. Hayes was found guilty of all seven of the charges filed by JIC against him. The Court said it found the charges “deeply troubling,” but noted his efforts to remedy the problems. According to the Court, Mr. Hayes cooperated with JIC and the Court and has taken responsibility for the matter.

Mr. Hayes will be suspended until October 2017, but his term is set to expire about four months later in January 2018.

Chip Brownlee is a political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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