MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Alabama Court of the Judiciary has decided on a punishment for Montgomery Family Court Judge Anita Kelly after a week of testimony. The COJ returned with its decision Friday afternoon, choosing to reprimand Kelly and suspend her without pay.
Kelly's suspension without pay will last 180 days. Kelly has been off the bench with pay since August, therefore she will be reinstated on May 14 and will serve without pay starting on that date. This can be reversed, however, at the 90-day mark if Kelly follows specific instructions by the court.
Those instructions include that she:
This court unanimously found that the commission proved that Kelly is guilty of each of the following charges:
"This court finds…that neither Judge Williams nor Judge Bailey has ever had a case under submission or advisement long enough to include it on a six-month report and both Judge Williams and Judge Bailey took responsible steps to ensure their dockets were current despite the challenges facing them and the juvenile clerk's office."
The court noted in considering the appropriate sanctions that it weighed the testimony from various witnesses that stated Kelly takes her job seriously and wants the best outcome for all parties involved.
"Further, there was no evidence introduced that Judge Kelly was ever involved in any sort of graft, corruption, scandal, or wrongful conduct other than the alleged pattern and practice delays," the order stated. "There is no evidence indicating that she intentionally did anything to harm anyone, most importantly the children impacted by her court."
While the court found no intention by Kelly to delay cases, they observed Kelly's lack of responsibility for the issues at hand.
"This Court is troubled by Judge Kelly's failure to accept responsibility and her attempt to blame others – including specifically the juvenile clerk's office – for the many delays that resulted in this matter being filed," the order cited.
The order stated it worked to uphold the will of the voters, and felt under the circumstances, Kelly is "warranted additional opportunity to attempt to efficiently do the job she was reelected to do."
"We emphasize, however, that regardless of whether Judge Kelly's inefficiency and inability in manager her docket has been unintentional, it must be remedied."
The COJ's hearing wrapped up Friday with closing arguments lasting about two hours. The COJ said it would begin deliberations immediately and "would not cease" until a decision is made on the future of Kelly's tenure on the bench.
In August 2017, the Judiciary Inquiry Commission filed a lengthy complaint against Kelly, citing more than six hundred family court cases that they believe showed 'unreasonable and unjustifiable' delays in Kelly's ability to handle her docket. The JIC stated that Kelly had a 'callous indifference or lack of comprehension' of the principals that govern how family court cases are handled and adjudicated.
The JIC charged Kelly with six counts including delays in Termination of Parental Rights, or TPR cases, delay in completing TPR trials, failure to manage docket, delay in final divorce degrees, comprehensive days in counts one to four, untimely and inaccurate Canon 3A(5) reports.
Kelly's legal team, led by Lewis Gillis, promptly denied any wrongdoing by Kelly and sought to defend her with 'vigorous evidence'.
During the week-long trial, the JIC offered multiple witnesses including families impacted by Kelly's ruling and two retired presiding Montgomery Family Court Judges to discuss the delays and failed attempts to help Kelly rectify her docket.
Gillis also presented witnesses that spoke to the unmanageable caseload and substantial lack of resources for the family court. A former employee spoke of no on the job training, and single-handedly running Kelly's office.
Family Court Judge Calvin Williams offered his changes during testimony, which included adding additional docket days and venues to have court, which solved some of the timeliness issues connected to docket management.
In closing arguments, the JIC cited the evidence it had presented for the charges in the complaint, adding Kelly never accepted responsibility for any delays or issues, only placing the blame on other parties.
Gillis urged the Court of the Judiciary to issue a favorable ruling for Kelly that would allow her to return to the bench. The defense cited the lack of manpower, toxic work environment, and no cooperation from those in power to help make positive changes.