ATHENS — A judge on Tuesday denied a motion from indicted Limestone County District Judge Douglas Patterson to obtain documentation of the special grand jury proceedings in December, and also set June 15 for Patterson’s trial to begin.
At a hearing in Limestone County Circuit Court before retired Morgan County Circuit Judge Steve Haddock, Patterson waived the reading of the indictment and entered a not guilty plea.
At the hearing, Chuck Warren, Patterson's lawyer, said that about 30 days before Patterson’s indictment, Presiding Circuit Judge Robert Baker sent Patterson a text, saying that if he didn’t accept a pre-indictment plea agreement, Baker would contact the Attorney General’s Office and a special grand jury would be empaneled.
Warren had asked the court to issue an order allowing him to obtain the grand jury transcript, exhibits and other documentation because “upon information and belief, there was improper undue influence exerted before and/or during the course of the proceedings” which prejudiced Patterson’s indictment.
Patterson, 38, was indicted by the special grand jury for use of his official position or office for personal gain, first-degree financial exploitation of the elderly and third-degree theft.
Warren submitted to the court a Dec. 12 press release from Attorney General Steve Marshall announcing the indictment and arrest of Patterson, noting the statement that the state’s investigation and special grand jury’s indictment is “a result of invaluable assistance from certain Limestone County judicial officials and employees."
“After uncovering evidence of the conduct alleged in the indictment, those individuals immediately alerted the Attorney General’s Office of the matter and have since cooperated fully in the state’s investigation,” according to the press release.
Warren also noted the section of the press release thanking Baker and “other employees of the county’s judiciary for their assistance and cooperation in this matter.”
The same grand jury heard both the Patterson case and the case of Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely, who was indicted on felony charges in August.
Assistant Attorney General Jasper Roberts Jr. said Baker empaneled the grand jury and had no other contact with it after excusing a juror.
Roberts called the allegations made in court “an ambush” by the defense. He said that grand jury deliberations are not to be used as a "fishing expedition."
In denying Patterson’s motion, Haddock said there was no evidence to support his argument for obtaining the grand jury material.
“It does not meet the threshold showing of a particular need for access to grand jury testimony” and other documentation, Haddock said.