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Corrupt Judge Kim Chaney

Judge Chaney: Enforced, broke rules

Court of the Judiciary finds Judge Chaney guilty of nepotism (AUDIO)

Court of the Judiciary finds Judge Chaney guilty of nepotism

What happened when a trial judge who also served on the state’s judicial oversight board was accused of misbehavior.

Alex Chaney was just a year out of law school in 2015 when he started receiving lucrative appointments at taxpayer expense. A district judge began assigning him to represent people too poor to afford a lawyer.

That judge was his dad, Kim Chaney.

Judge Chaney is a powerful figure in rural Cullman County, where he was first elected to the bench in 1992. Chaney serves on a local bank board and has led several statewide justice associations.

In 2012, the governor honored Chaney by selecting him to also serve on Alabama’s nine-member Judicial Inquiry Commission, which investigates misconduct by judges. While on the commission, Chaney broke its ethics laws in his own courtroom.

In 2016, local attorney Tommy Drake filed a complaint against Chaney, alleging that the judge was appointing his son to represent indigent defendants, violating ethics rules that prohibit nepotism. Alex Chaney was paid $105,000 from 2015 to 2017 by the state for such court-appointed work, accounting records show.

Because Judge Chaney served on the judicial commission, Drake sent his complaint to a different state watchdog agency, the Alabama Ethics Commission. On October 4, 2017, the Ethics Commission found that Judge Chaney violated ethics rules and referred the case to the state attorney general.

The following day, records show, Judge Chaney resigned from the Judicial Inquiry Commission. But he remained a trial judge in Cullman. Eighteen months passed.

Last summer, a Reuters reporter began asking state officials about the status of the case. The officials declined to comment.

In November, Reuters sent Judge Chaney and his son queries. They did not respond. The judge’s lawyer, John Henig Jr, wrote to Reuters: “Judge Chaney is a person of remarkably good character and would never knowingly do anything unethical or wrong.”

Henig said that Judge Chaney appointed his son from a rotating list of lawyers to represent indigent defendants. Henig called the appointments “ministerial” in nature.

“If Judge Chaney’s son’s name was the next name on the list for appointments, Judge Chaney would call out his son’s name and thereafter immediately recuse himself from the case,” Henig wrote.

A Reuters review of court records showed otherwise: Judge Chaney participated in several cases after appointing his son and issued substantive decisions. For example, records show that the judge reduced bond for one of his son’s clients, and approved another’s motion to plead guilty. Henig did not respond to questions about these records.
APPOINTED SON: This document shows how Judge Kim Chaney appointed his lawyer son to handle cases.

Corrupt Judge Kim Chaney
APPOINTED SON: This document shows how Judge Kim Chaney appointed his lawyer son to handle cases.

This February 7 – eight months after Reuters began inquiring about Chaney – the commission charged the judge with appointing his son to more than 200 cases and making rulings in some of them. Chaney struck a deal with the commission and retired from the bench, avoiding a trial.

During a hearing to approve the deal, commission lawyer Elizabeth Bern said Chaney should have known better than to appoint his son, especially given that he did so while a member of the oversight agency. During Chaney’s tenure, the commission had disciplined two judges who abused their office to benefit a relative.

“The nepotism provision is clear and unequivocal without exception,” she said.

Chaney did not speak during the hearing.

Drake, the lawyer who filed the complaint in 2016, said that absent the Reuters inquiries, he doubts Chaney would have retired from the bench because he is so politically powerful.

Indeed, shortly after the judge stepped down in disgrace for steering work to his son, the local bar association issued a resolution praising him.

Of Chaney, the local lawyers said, “He has always maintained the highest ethical and moral standards of the office and has been an example to all, what a judge should represent.”


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