When Gov. Robert Bentley last week cited allegations of a conflict of interest to remove Hale County Circuit Judge Marvin Wiggins from the Alabama State University board of trustees, it was not the first time the judge faced conflict of interests issues.
Five years ago, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary issued a public reprimand of Judge Wiggins for refusing to removere himself from a court case in which he had a conflict of interest.
That case, like the allegations involving Wiggins and the ASU board of trustees, involved family members of the judge.
According to the findings by the Court of the Judiciary, which hears complaints against judges, Wiggins involved himself in a court proceeding that involved members of his family even though the motions had not been assigned to him.
The case involved a voter fraud investigation by the state Attorney General's Office. During the course of the probe, the Attorney General's Office issued a subpoena and another judge issued a search warrant.
"Judge Wiggins granted a motion to quash the subpoena and the search warrant, although the motion had not been duly assigned to him and without giving the Attorney General an opportunity to be heard on that motion," according to the court's reprimand of Wiggins.
The reprimand said that Wiggins quashed the subpoena and search warrant even though he knew that his sister, brother-in-law and first cousin were among those being investigated.
[DOCUMENT: Wiggins' public reprimand (.pdf)]
The reprimand also stated that Wiggins refused to remove himself from the case despite his conflict of interest until ordered to do so by the Alabama Criminal Appeals Court, and even then it took an additional 29 days for him to act on the order.
"The failure of Judge Wiggins to recuse himself from proceedings in which his close relatives were the subject of investigation constitutes a serious breach of the Canons of Judicial Ethics and an intentional act of misconduct," the reprimand of Wiggins stated.
"The impartiality of the judiciary is a right of the citizens, not a private right of judges," the reprimand stated. "The public must be able to trust that our judges will dispense justice fairly and impartially. Judge Wiggins, by his actions, disregarded that trust."
In addition to the public reprimand, Wiggins was suspended without pay for 90 days.
[DOCUMENT: Final Judgement (.pdf)]
In the ASU trustee saga, Bentley removed Wiggins, the vice chairman of the board, from the board after forensic auditors and the university's accrediting agency determined that he had a conflict of interest.
Wiggins has denied he had a conflict, and said he might sue to remain on the board.
Trustee Chairman Elton Dean resigned after being asked to do so by the governor and the president of the student government association.
Ken Hare was a longtime Alabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for WSFA's web site. Email him at email@example.com.
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