More details on Judge Chaney’s alleged ethics violation involving nepotism

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Judge Kim Chaney, left; Attorney Thomas E. Drake, II, center; Attorney Alex Chaney, right (credits Tribune file photo, Facebook)

CULLMAN – More details are coming to light about the alleged ethics violations involving Cullman County District Judge Kim Chaney. Alabama Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton confirmed to The Tribune Friday, “The commission found probable cause that Judge Chaney used his position for personal gain, that he violated Section 36-25-5.”

Section 36-25-5 reads, in part, "No public official or public employee shall use or cause to be used his or her official position or office to obtain personal gain for himself or herself, or family member of the public employee or family member of the public official, or any business with which the person is associated unless the use and gain are otherwise specifically authorized by law.  Personal gain is achieved when the public official, public employee, or a family member thereof receives, obtains, exerts control over, or otherwise converts to personal use the object constituting such personal gain.”

While Albritton declined to go into more detail, The Alabama Political Reporter reported Friday that Albritton said, “Chaney stands accused of directing criminal appointments – assigning representation of criminal defendants – to his son and his son’s law firm.” That firm is Berry, Berry, Little, Brunner & Chaney.

Cullman attorney Thomas E. Drake, II confirmed to The Tribune Thursday that he is the complainant in the investigation, and he gave one word as his reason: "nepotism."

The Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause Wednesday that Kim Chaney violated state ethics laws, and the case was forwarded to Alabama Attorney Gen. Steve Marshall's office for review. Albritton confirmed the decision to The Tribune's media partner, WBRC FOX6 News, on Wednesday, but did not comment on the specifics of the allegations. He said the vote was unanimous.

Drake told The Tribune on Thursday, "I can confirm that I am the complainant in the case." When asked his reasons, he would only say, "nepotism." Drake said he could not comment further, but that someone from his office would give details of the allegations. As of press time, The Drake Law Firm has not provided any additional information.

The complaint itself is protected from disclosure.

Kim Chaney's attorneys, Mark White and Augusta Dowd, of Birmingham’s White, Arnold & Dowd P.C., said in a statement Wednesday, “This firm has the privilege of representing Honorable Kim J. Chaney with issues taken up by the Ethics Commission. Judge Chaney has served the state of Alabama honorably and with distinction and great integrity for the past 25 years, and his character and integrity will prevail in these challenging times. Today’s decision by the Ethics Commission is nothing more than a probable cause finding to be followed by more of an in-depth investigation.  We have full confidence that when the true and full facts are disclosed, Judge Chaney’s name will be completely cleared and he will continue in his service to the state of Alabama.”

Albritton told The Tribune on Friday, “Ethics violations are criminal. Once we refer the cases to the attorney general, it becomes their case. It could be a Class B Felony, which would carry jail time, or there are other resolutions available, involving misdemeanors or simple fines.”

Kim Chaney has served on the bench in Cullman County since 1993, being sworn in to his fifth term in February of this year. At his swearing-in ceremony, Circuit Judge Greg Nicholas shared that Chaney is the longest-serving district court judge in Cullman County, and in 2018, will be the longest-serving district court judge in Alabama. Among Chaney's other accolades are his role in founding the Boot Camp Wilderness program for delinquent youth, his presidencies of the Alabama Juvenile Judges' Association, Alabama District Judges' Association and Alabama Association of Drug Court Professionals and his being awarded the Howell Heflin Award for exemplary service to the Court Parole program, 2013 Lions Club Chester Freeman Service to Others Award and the 2016 Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce Emma Marie Edelman Award. Chaney is also a founding member of the Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force.

According to the Alabama Department of Finance, through open.alabama.gov, Alex Chaney received $118,766.80 in compensation from the Fair Trial Tax Fund for fiscal year 2016 and $86,406.86 for fiscal year 2017.

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