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Saturday, April 30, 2005

"Cousin" Judge reinstates School Board Pres. License

Will the judge be prosecuted when this guy kills someone while driving drunk?

David Thomas driving again
Judge Herman Thomas gives school board president his license back, for now
Saturday, April 30, 2005
Staff Reporter

Mobile County school board president David Thomas, whose drivers license was suspended for 90 days after being charged with DUI, got his license back after just a few weeks, though he could lose it again for the rest of the 90 days.

Circuit Judge Herman Thomas, who has said that he and David Thomas are friends, fraternity brothers and cousins, though not first cousins, granted the motion.

David Thomas' license was automatically revoked for 90 days because he refused to take a blood-alcohol test when he was arrested on Mardi Gras, Feb. 8.

He appealed the suspension to the Alabama Department of Public Safety, but he lost the appeal in March. Thomas' driving privileges were then revoked, which was reflected in a copy of his driving license record obtained by the Mobile Register on March 25.

Thomas' attorney, Donald Briskman, appealed the DPS decision to Mobile County Circuit Court on April 11. Briskman asked that Thomas' license be taken off suspension until the appeal is decided.

According to a new DPS report on David Thomas' license, he's free to drive.

Anticipating a question about Herman Thomas' action in his cousin's case, Briskman said "there's nothing out of the ordinary" because Herman Thomas was the duty judge when Briskman brought the motion.

The duty judge handles various time-sensitive motions that are not already assigned to a particular judge. A court employee confirmed that Herman Thomas was the duty judge on April 11.

Herman Thomas could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

David Thomas' appeal of his license suspension is a civil matter, separate from the criminal charges pending against the board member, including a felony count of leaving the scene of an accident.

Ken Nixon, a Mobile lawyer who frequently handles drunken driving cases, said he almost always appeals the automatic driver's license suspension and commonly appeals those decisions to Circuit Court.

Two or three times a year, Nixon said, a Department of Public Safety lawyer comes down to Mobile to represent the state in all the appeals that have piled up.

The Mobile Register has fielded several calls from people who said David Thomas was driving recently. A reporter saw Thomas driving Thursday after a school board meeting.

Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. said people have called his office, too. Tyson said his staff had been dealing with the police department to establish if that was true, but he said he wasn't aware that Thomas' license had been reinstated.

Tyson's office is handling the Fat Tuesday charges stemming from the accident in which David Thomas' vehicle collided with an 8-year-old girl, who was on foot. Both charges have been sent to a grand jury, which will decide whether to indict him.

If convicted of the felony, David Thomas will be removed from office -- a specter also hanging over Mobile County Sheriff Jack Tillman, who is facing felony charges of his own.

David Thomas' recent arrest fo cused attention on a previous DUI arrest in December 1998 that had gone unnoticed. In that case, a Mobile police officer reported that Thomas was passed out at the wheel of his vehicle while it was in the middle of Dauphin Street downtown.

Thomas was released from jail without having to stay the customary eight hours to sober up, even though he registered .14 on a blood-alcohol test, well above the legal limit of .08, according to his court file.

A few days before Thomas was scheduled to appear in court, his case was taken up by Municipal Court Judge Wanda Rahman. She ordered that the charge be dropped and that Thomas pay about $100 to the court and stay out of trouble for a year.

Rahman ordered that the case be expunged, meaning it was erased from the court's computer filing system. Paper records were placed in a filing cabinet out of public view.

David Thomas' expungement exposed the Municipal Court's relatively widespread practice of expungement, in which more than 200 cases have been erased annually in recent years.

Sheriff Tillman has said that only a judge could have allowed Thomas' early release in 1998, though the Mobile Register has not learned if that happened.

Stanley Arnold, the corrections officer who released Thomas that night, has said that he remembered the case -- and that he also is a fraternity brother of Thomas -- but he would not discuss it further.

Judge Thomas has previously said he had nothing to do with his cousin's 1998 charge, though he wasn't specifically asked about David Thomas' early release from jail.


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