A federal civil lawsuit against 47 defendants, including Jefferson County Domestic Relations Court judges, claims a widespread and sophisticated racketeering scheme is occurring. However, some of those defendants tell 1819 News the allegations are false.
“The Jefferson County Circuit Court Domestic Relations Division has an established and pervasive culture of corruption that has metastasized to certain judges, court appointees, attorneys, and ‘professionals’ acting at their direction to extort, defraud, tortiously injure, and deprive citizens of their constitutional rights for ill-gotten gains,” the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit alleges the defendants were either a part of or participated, directly or indirectly, with an association called “The Enterprise.” The victims were families and children dealing with either divorces or custody proceedings.
Plaintiffs known as D. Deaton and T. Peake filed the lawsuit last week on behalf of themselves and their four children in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, Southern Division.
Their attorney, Scott Tindle, told 1819 News that his clients had been impacted by the defendants' actions for four years. He said they had kept detailed records and proof of wrongdoing, strengthening the case.
“We didn’t allege anything that we didn’t have really strong physical evidence of,” said Tindle. “And that’s what makes us so confident about it.”
Deaton and Peake both went through court battles during their divorces from their previous spouses. When they were married in 2019, they claim they realized both cases were extraordinarily difficult and their children had been through a lot in the process.
“During the trip to celebrate their wedding, all of the minor children bonded and discussed concerning and shocking issues occurring in their other parent’s home,” the lawsuit states. “Over the next few weeks, Ms. T. Peake and Mr. D. Deaton learned of additional facts that supported their concerns and sought relief from the Jefferson County Circuit Court Domestic Relations Division.”
But the pair insists that instead of protecting the children, “The Enterprise” worked to line their pockets by dragging out the case and sharing information among each other, despite conflicts of interest in other cases, to charge more fees. They even say court proceedings were held in secret in some cases.
The complex lawsuit lists 31 counts, including RICO conspiracy, malpractice, fraud, invasion of privacy, false imprisonment, and abuse of process, among others. Not all defendants are accused on all counts.
“The Enterprise” is accused by the couple of fabricating legal fees and concealing information from state and federal agencies. They are also accused of making things worse between families in court to further litigation and increase profits.
“This criminal enterprise is a combination of judges, people they appoint, attorneys and people they use in the community to achieve their goals,” Tindle added. “And what they do, is they basically run a racket that’s a pay-to-play scheme where if you object to the high fees – and they keep these cases running forever so that they can run up really high fees – then if you object to the really high fees, you become public enemy number one.”
The lawsuit states that Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Stephens, the presiding judge over Domestic Relations, directed “The Enterprise” and has been “left unchecked.”
“Judge Patricia Stephens uses the authority of her office to influence and dictate the outcome of cases not assigned to her,” it states.
When giving examples of corruption, the lawsuit listed two judges removed from the bench during Stephens’ tenure.
Stephens’ office did not respond to a media inquiry by 1819 News concerning these allegations.
Tindle told 1819 News that he believes the scheme has impacted many families but that until now, people have been terrified to speak out. Since the filing, he said he has heard from over a dozen people who claim they had similar experiences with the court system in Jefferson County.
“The main issue here is that parents are being extorted, they’re getting money stolen from them and they’re getting their children taken away from them and that’s not okay,” said Tindle. “We’re not interested in punishing anyone. We are not in the punishing business. We just want these people to be stopped so that they can’t hurt anyone else and this [lawsuit] was the only tool we had.”
Other attorneys in Jefferson County have come forward, saying they have witnessed issues over the years with divorce and custody cases that gave them pause. But this is the first time a federal lawsuit has been filed against the alleged “enterprise.”
However, the complaint has been brought to the Judiciary Inquiry Commission, the Alabama State Bar, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court, to no avail.
“It’s really sad because, at the end of the day, the children are being used as pawns,” Tindle added. “ … It is very intimidating and I don’t take it lightly. I thought about it long and hard before I did it. Suing judges and attorneys is a very serious allegation but I felt confident doing it because my client had all the paperwork to back it up. So, I knew that what I was doing was the right thing and sometimes doing the right thing you have to face some intimidation.”
Other judges named in the lawsuit are Circuit Court Judge Alisha Ruffin May and retired Judge Agnes Chappell. Attorneys are from four different law firms.
The Executive Committee for one of those law firms, Wallace, Jordan, Ratliff & Brandt, L.L.C., responded to 1819 News by denying the allegations.
"The plaintiffs in this lawsuit and their attorney have made allegations in their complaint against fifty defendants including our firm and three of our attorneys," the statement read. "Neither this firm nor any attorney in our firm have ever represented the plaintiffs. Our firm does represent the ex-husband of one of the plaintiffs in a business dispute that she filed against him. We adamantly deny the plaintiffs’ allegations in the lawsuit against our firm and its attorneys. The claims against us are demonstrably false, and we will vigorously defend and protect the reputation of our firm and its attorneys."
Another law firm listed in the suit is Crittenden Partners, P.C. Representatives responded to an 1819 News inquiry. They provided a statement saying the lawsuit is frivolous and all connected to legal drama between the plaintiffs and others that Crittenden has nothing to do with.
"The Plaintiffs are not, and have never been, clients of Crittenden Partners, P.C.," the statement read. "Our firm represents the ex-spouse of one of the Plaintiffs in a divorce modification action. We have been very successful in that action and have fought vigorously for our client.
"Our firm is one of the most well-respected domestic relations firms in Alabama. Unfortunately, our success comes with retaliatory behavior from opposing parties who are disgruntled with their own legal representation and outcomes. We have dealt with resentful opposing parties before, and our integrity and actions have consistently been confirmed by our Courts and the Alabama Bar. We are dedicated to advocating for our clients and will continue to represent our clients despite any efforts by their spouse or ex-spouse to intimidate, threaten or deter us.
"All of the allegations in the complaint are wildly false and simply put forth for the purpose of harassment. This frivolous lawsuit has been brought against fifty of the most prominent domestic relations attorneys, judges, and mental health providers in Alabama. After being unsuccessful in their litigation efforts in State Court, the disgruntled plaintiffs have made a last-ditch effort to slander and extract vengeance against the professionals associated with their cases. We anticipate that, similar to the State Court, the Federal Court will handle this matter appropriately."
The accusations alleged in the lawsuit have not been proven in a court of law. Therefore all parties are considered innocent.
[READ THE ENTIRE LAWSUIT BELOW]
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