• September 24, 2023

Brookside traffic court judge resigns, suspended from practicing law

Jim Wooten, the judge who presided over 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 law license, effective December 21, 2022, according to records obtained by AL.com this week.

And Mike Bryan, the mayor of Brookside, told AL.com that Wooten is no longer the town’s judge. Wooten resigned last month, a week before his suspension took effect.

“He does not work for the town of Brookside,” Bryan said.

The Alabama State Bar investigated Wooten because of allegations he “improperly advanced himself fees” from a family member’s inheritance when she was a child. The bar’s disciplinary commission found that he violated the rules of professional conduct for lawyers, the records show.

Wooten, a Birmingham attorney, became the administrator 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 distributed more than $200,000 of her inheritance to his personal and business accounts.

“Wooten admitted that while the estate remained open, he improperly advanced himself fees from the estate without seeking permission from the probate court,” according to records from the state bar’s disciplinary commission. “Despite the fact the fees had not been earned, Wooten failed to place the funds in trust. Wooten also did not disclose to the family that he had taken the fees.”

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

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

Roman Shaul, general counsel for the Alabama State Bar, told AL.com that because Wooten’s suspension is more than 90 days, the bar’s disciplinary board will get to decide whether to reinstate his license. Shaul said for suspensions of 90 days or fewer, the lawyer’s license is automatically reinstated.

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

Wooten settled the lawsuit, according to court records, and repaid the money he had withdrawn from the estate.

Jim Wooten, the judge in the town of Brookside, Ala., shown in a photo that published in the Birmingham News shortly after he was first appointed in 2008.

Jim Wooten, the judge in the town of Brookside, Ala., is shown in a photo that published in the Birmingham News shortly after he was first appointed in 2008.File photo/The Birmingham News

AL.com first reported on the litigation after Wooten came under scrutiny for his role in the aggressive prosecution of drivers in Brookside.

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

From 2018-2020, revenue from fines and forfeitures soared 640 percent in Brookside, coming to account for half the town’s income.

Read More: [Time passes, but the sting of a Brookside arrest endures]

Wooten, who is 60, had presided over the town’s court since 2009. He was one of three key figures in the aggressive prosecution of drivers — the others were Mark Parnell, the prosecutor and town attorney, and Mike Jones, the former police chief who resigned in the wake of the AL.com investigation.

After the AL.com reporting sparked calls for his resignation, Wooten issued an order last April, recusing himself from pending cases in Brookside. But he declined to step down at that time and said any allegations of misconduct leveled against him as a judge are false.

“However, the court is aware and cognizant that such allegations, public opinion and clamor could reasonably call into question the undersigned’s impartiality in any case currently pending before him,” Wooten wrote in his order. “Therefore … in order to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the Brookside Municipal Court, the undersigned hereby recuses himself from any and all cases currently pending before the court as of the date of this order.”

After Wooten recused himself, the town appointed Marcus Jones to hear those cases. In a statement today, town officials said Jones is continuing to serve as judge with Wooten’s departure.

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