Judge who criticized death penalty system suspended 90 days

A state disciplinary panel has ruled an Alabama judge violated judicial rules with her public criticism of how death penalty cases are handled and suspended her from the bench for 90 days.

The Alabama Court of the Judiciary ruled Friday that Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tracie Todd had violated the canons of judicial ethics with her comments and actions in death penalty cases.

The court found Todd had made inappropriate statement that the court system in Alabama is corrupted by politics, abandoned the role of a neutral arbiter to become an advocate for defendants and for her own opinions and took inappropriate actions such as questioning an attorney about whether he gave a financial contribution to her opponent.

The court suspended Todd for 90 days without pay. However, because she had been suspended with pay while the ethics complaint was heard, she was eligible to return to the bench this week.

Todd made national news in 2016 when she ruled the state’s death penalty sentencing procedure was unconstitutional and barred prosecutors from seeking the death penalty against four men charged in three killings. Her ruling was later overturned.

The Court of the Judiciary said Todd violated judicial rules with some of her comments in 2016, suggesting that the Alabama judiciary is politically corrupt, that court-appointed attorney assignments are based on campaign contributions and that an appeal in death penalty cases, where a judge sentenced a person to death over a jury’s recommendation, is “ceremonial at best.”

A lawyer for Todd did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

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