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Ala. Blind Judge Suspended

January 24, 1998

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ A state judicial panel suspended Alabama’s only blind judge Friday for failing to keep his docket up to date and trying to block testimony he feared would show how poorly he ran his office.

The State Court of the Judiciary also censured Circuit Judge Tony Cothren for sleeping on the bench but did not issue sanctions on that count because of undisputed evidence that he suffers from a sleep disorder.

Cothren, 48, appointed by Gov. Fob James in April 1996 to a new judgeship, was suspended with pay until June 30 and without pay for the remainder of his appointed term, which ends in January 1999.

Cothren had no comment and was expressionless immediately after the ruling. A few minutes later, he could be heard saying softly to two of his staff members: ``They didn’t believe me.″

His attorney, Al Agricola, said he was not yet sure whether Cothren would appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court.

Assistant Attorney General John Gibbs, representing the Judicial Inquiry Commission that brought the charges against Cothren, declined to comment.

As for testimony that stacks of court files were scattered about his office, including some long overdue for action, Cothren said he was unaware of them and relied on his staff to tell him about such matters.

``I have to totally rely on my staff to keep (files) organized and keep them from slipping through the process. They are my eyes,″ Cothren said.

Under cross-examination, he said he accepted he was responsible for the actions of his staff.

On Thursday, a lawyer testified that Cothren told him to disrupt a deposition of Cothren’s former secretary by walking out if another lawyer questioned her about how Cothren ran his office.

But earlier Friday, Cothren denied making the remark to Abner Vincent ``Vince″ Brown Jr. during a telephone conversation about a divorce case.

Cothren also testified he was not aware of ever falling asleep on the bench, but his lawyers said he suffers from sleep apnea and introduced evidence that people with the disorder often don’t realize they doze off for brief periods. Numerous witnesses told the court that Cothren fell asleep on the bench.

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