Lawsuit targeting Baldwin County judicial appointments dismissed

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Secretary of State John Merrill in an attempt to remove a Baldwin County District Court judge from directing county court cases, arguing that such judicial appointments deprive voters of the right to vote. According to the complaint, presiding district judge Michelle Thomason has served as a permanent specially appointed judge at the district court for more than a decade, presiding over matters beyond her authority.

The plaintiff has been a party to a contentious custody case assigned to Thomason for seven years and the judge has twice dismissed the plaintiff’s motions to withdraw on an alleged conflict of interest. The federal complaint argued that Plaintiff Chey Garrigan “and Baldwin County voters have been permanently denied a vote on a competent district court candidate.” It also tried to prevent Thomason from hearing Garrigan’s case “and all other county courts”.

In a dismissal motion, Merrill alleged Garrigan had no authority to file the lawsuit, cited no violation, and was protected by sovereign immunity. Thomason and District Court Chairman Clark Stankoski filed their own joint motion to dismiss, demanding immunity from the Eleventh Amendment, interference in an ongoing state court case, expiration of the statute of limitations and failure to file a claim.

When asked about Thomason’s appointment to the district court in August, Stankoski told Lagniappe that the Baldwin district is currently understaffed by two district judges and one district judge, and according to a March report, Baldwin County’s district judges had an average number of cases / filings of 2,132 and the statewide average is 1,390, “making Baldwin County the 4th busiest county court in the state.”

The recent decision to appoint Thomason to the District Court stated that the appointment was temporary and indicated that Thomason has the power to preside over matters including, but not limited to, “filing of crimes, dealing with cases with pending.” Charges that have been bound pending grand jury action, civil and criminal jury and non-jury trials, convictions and waivers, including domestic relations and abuse protection cases. “The order remains” pending further orders of the court ”in force.

In granting the defendants’ motions to dismiss on October 29, U.S. District Court judge Emily Marks found that she was 11. [Secretary of State] controls the contested action, voters cannot rely on the general electoral authority of the secretary for traceability. “

“Here Garrigan alleges that Garrigan and other voters were denied the opportunity to elect the judge to preside over Garrigan’s pending domestic relations case because Stankowski appointed Thomason district judge,” wrote Marks. “But there is no allegation that Merrill played a role in Thomason’s appointment. Garrigan does not seek remedy in the form of compulsory voting, only in ordering judges to be appointed and various laws to be repealed. In the absence of any factual evidence that Merrill’s actions led to the violation Garrigan complained about, Garrigan cannot rely on the Secretary of State’s general authority to hold elections to establish traceability. “

In addition, the court concluded that “the ability of the state courts in Alabama to determine when the appointment of a special judge to resolve a domestic relationship case is appropriate under Alabama law is solely to the ability of the state courts to determine To promote the exercise of their judicial functions. ”

“The fact that the lawsuit in this case alleges that the Mandamus legal protection was denied by the State Court underscores that a decision by that court that could conflict with that of the State Court would constitute an unreasonable prejudice to the state process,” concluded Marks.

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