Brookside traffic court judge resigns after being suspended from practicing law

Jim Wooten, the judge who presided over the traffic court in the troubled town of Brookside, has been suspended from practicing law in Alabama.

The Alabama Supreme Court ordered a 91-day suspension of Wooten’s license effective December 21, 2022, according to records obtained by AL.com this week.

And Brookside Mayor Mike Bryan told AL.com that Wooten is no longer the city’s judge. Wooten resigned last month, a week before his suspension went into effect.

“He doesn’t work for the city of Brookside,” Bryan said.

The Alabama Bar Association was investigating Wooten over allegations that he “unlawfully advanced fees out of a family member’s inheritance” as a child. The Disciplinary Commission of the Bar Association found that he had violated the code of conduct for lawyers, as the files show.

Wooten, a Birmingham lawyer, became executor of his late brother’s estate in 2006 when his niece was seven years old. In 2020, Wooten’s niece filed a lawsuit alleging that her Uncle Jim had more than $200,000 of her inheritance spread across his personal and business accounts.

“Wooten admitted that while the probate remained open, he improperly advanced fees from the probate without obtaining the permission of the probate court,” according to records from the prosecution’s disciplinary committee. ‚ÄúDespite the fact that the fees were not earned, Wooten failed to place the funds in escrow. Wooten also hasn’t told the family that he’s covered the fees.”

Wooten previously denied any wrongdoing, telling AL.com last year that he was paid an average of $16,200 annually. “By law, I was entitled to be paid for my services out of the estate,” he said in a statement to AL.com at the time.

Wooten did not respond to AL.com requests for comment on this article.

Roman Shaul, general counsel for the Alabama State Bar, told AL.com that since Wooten’s suspension lasts more than 90 days, the bar’s Disciplinary Committee will decide whether to regain his license. Shaul said that if the suspension is 90 days or less, the attorney’s license is automatically reinstated.

Wooten’s niece filed the attorney’s suit against her uncle in 2020, the same year she sued him.

Wooten has settled the lawsuit, according to court documents, and returned the money he took from the estate.

Jim Wooten, the judge in the city of Brookside, Alabama, is seen in a photo published in the Birmingham News shortly after his first appointment in 2008.

Jim Wooten, the judge in the city of Brookside, Alabama, is seen in a photo published in the Birmingham News shortly after his first appointment in 2008.File Photo/The Birmingham News

AL.com first reported on the lawsuit after Wooten came under scrutiny for his role in aggressively pursuing drivers at Brookside.

Brookside, home to 1,253 people north of Birmingham, became a national example of for-profit policing after AL.com published an investigation last January detailing how Brookside officers harassed drivers and filled the town’s small courtroom , while they used newfound money from fines and forfeitures to expand the police force.

From 2018 to 2020, Brookside’s revenue from fines and forfeits increased 640 percent and accounted for half of the city’s revenue.

Continue reading: [Time passes, but the sting of a Brookside arrest endures]

The 60-year-old Wooten had been chairman of the municipal court since 2009. He was one of three key figures in the aggressive pursuit of drivers – the others were Mark Parnell, the prosecutor and prosecutor, and Mike Jones, the former police chief who resigned in the wake of the AL.com investigation.

After AL.com’s reporting sparked calls for his resignation, Wooten issued an order withdrawing from pending cases at Brookside last April. However, he declined to resign at the time, saying any allegations of misconduct made against him as a judge were false.

“However, the Court is aware and aware that such allegations, public opinion and the noise could reasonably call into question the signatory’s impartiality in each case currently pending before him,” Wooten wrote in his order. “Therefore… to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of Brookside Municipal Court, the undersigned hereby waives all cases now pending in court at the time of this order.”

After Wooten retired, the city appointed Marcus Jones to hear these cases. In a statement today, city officials said Jones will continue to serve as judge after Wooten’s departure.

Read more from our Banking on crime Series:

Source