(Update) Formal ethics complaint preceded Chaney’s retirement from District Court

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The Honorable Judge Kim Chaney (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – State court documents filed eight days before Cullman County District Judge Kim Chaney officially retired Feb. 15, 2020 indicate he is now the subject of a formal ethics complaint filed by the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC, a commission on which Chaney himself served from 2012-16) with the Alabama Court of the Judiciary (COJ), the state’s body charged with considering legal matters concerning judges, and which, according to its website, “shall have authority, after notice and public hearing to remove from office, suspend without pay, or censure a judge, or apply such other sanction as may be prescribed by law, for violation of a Canon of Judicial Ethics, misconduct in office, failure to perform his duties.”

The formal complaint, filed Feb. 7, alleges, “While serving on the Commission, Judge Chaney, in his official capacity as judge, appointed his son as an attorney in more than 200 indigent cases during the period from August 2015 through July 2017, for which Judge Chaney’s son was paid approximately $105,000, exclusive of any monies paid pursuant to an indigent-defense contract,” and that “Judge Chaney took judicial actions in some of those cases although he was disqualified.”

Chaney faces three charges:

  • Appointing his son to the indigent cases
  • “Improperly taking judicial action and hearing son’s cases,” including “hearing motions, entering orders, and granting fee declarations, on cases wherein his son was an attorney”
  • “Pattern and practice of appointing son and taking judicial action in son’s cases”

 

Official notification from the COJ to Chaney of the charges was dated Feb. 18 and gave Chaney 30 days to respond to the charges. The letter also indicated that Chaney would have faced suspension from his duties as a judge had he not retired over the weekend.

On Wednesday, Chaney waived his right to respond, and he and the JIC made a joint request that the COJ expedite a required public hearing on his case. 

Also on Wednesday, the COJ set a public hearing for 2 p.m. Feb. 24 in Montgomery, “to consider a proposed resolution of the charges in this case.”

The JIC complaint can be viewed at http://judicial.alabama.gov/docs/judiciary/COJ56Complaint.pdf.

The formal complaint this month stems from a complaint made in the fall of 2017 by Cullman attorney Thomas E. Drake II, alleging “nepotism.” At that time, Alabama Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton confirmed to The Tribune, “The commission found probable cause that Judge Chaney used his position for personal gain, that he violated Section 36-25-5.” The case was forwarded to Alabama Attorney Gen. Steve Marshall’s office for review.

Judge Chaney’s son is Cullman attorney Alex Chaney. 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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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com