Former Covington County Judge Convicted on Ethics and Theft Charges
October 29, 2008
MONTGOMERY—Attorney General Troy King announced the conviction today of former Covington County Probate Judge Sherrie Reid Phillips for felony ethics and theft charges.
Phillips was found guilty by a jury in Covington County Circuit Court late this afternoon following a trial that began on Monday. Sentencing is set for 9 a.m on November 12.
Attorney General King said, “This conviction sends a strong message that no one is above the law.
This verdict proves that even judges who break the laws they apply are accountable for their actions.
My commitment to the people of Covington County and citizens throughout Alabama is that, as their Attorney General, I will prosecute those who break the law and betray the public trust, and that I will take action to preserve the integrity of our government. Today, we make good on that pledge”
The Attorney General’s Office presented evidence that Phillips took a $1.8 million check from the estate of Cary Douglas Piper and put the funds into a personal account for herself, listing her own address and social security number on the account.
Phillips subsequently withdrew $516,917. 50 which was used by herself and family members.
Although $516,000 was returned at a later date, the money was not repaid until the morning after Attorney General’s investigators came to the probate office with a subpoena seeking the file and records of the Piper estate.
Between January 22, 2008, and April 5, 2008, Phillips wrote 10 checks from the account, including checks to pay off loans, a $25,000 check to her husband, a $100,000 check to her brother, a $100,000 check to herself after she had bought a Cadillac for more than $60,000, and a $23,000 check to a Ford dealer for her husband’s truck.
On April 30, 2008, agents of Attorney General King’s office served a subpoena upon the Covington County Probate Office for the file on the Piper estate.
At that time, the file did not record what became of the $1.8 million. Phillips was at the financial institution the next morning when it opened, and immediately took the following actions: she transferred the money from the personal account into a public funds account; deposited a check from a brother for $449,000, a check from another brother for $25,000, a check from her husband for $12,000, and a check from herself for $32,000 into that account.
Attorney General King’s office presented evidence to a Covington County grand jury on June 10, resulting in a Phillips’ indictment for first-degree theft and felony ethics violation by intentionally misusing her public office for unlawful personal gain.
Upon her conviction today, Phillips faces a maximum penalty of two to 20 years imprisonment and fines of up to $30,000 for each count, all of which are class B felonies.
Attorney General King commended Assistant Attorney General Bill Lisenby, chief of his Public Corruption and White Collar Crime Division, Assistant Attorney General Ben Baxley, and the Attorney General’s Investigations Division, for their outstanding work to bring this case to a successful conclusion.
Phillips apologizes to county residents
October 30, 2008
Former Probate Judge Sherrie Phillips said she wanted to apologize to the citizens of Covington County after being found guilty of ethics charges and of theft by deception of of $1.8 million Wednesday afternoon.
Phillips spoke with reporters as she left the courtroom, surrounded by members of her family, some of whom had testified in the case.
Phillips said she was disappointed in the guilty verdict, for which she could be sentenced to prison time, but expressed her appreciation to the jury for their service. She and her attorneys indicated they will appeal the case.
“I am concerned for me and my family,” Phillips told reporters, “for what it does to my family’s reputation as well as mine.”
Philips, who took the stand Wednesday in her own defense, said she did not regret doing so.
“I felt I needed to tell my side of the story,” she said.
Riley Powell, who led Phillips’ defense, said, “All of us wish this had never happened. It was not her intent to deprive anyone.”
David Harrison, the Geneva attorney with whom Phillips has been practicing law since leaving the probate office, called Phillips’ case “a case of first impression.”
“She was originally charged with six felonies,” Harrison said. “This is a very appealable case.”
During the course of the trial, three of the six charges against Phillips related to the theft of all or part of a check for $3,650, were dropped. Two of the three remaining charges were for the theft and theft by deception. Price instructed the jury that they could only find her guilty of one of the two charges. “You can’t be charged twice for stealing the same property,” he explained in his charge.
Powell declined to comment specifically on the intended appeal, but said “there are some areas of the law we disagree with.”
He also praised the jury.
“We believe in the jury system. The jury worked hard in reaching the verdict and throughout the trial,” Powell said. “We believe they did what they thought best.”
While Phillips could be sentenced to two to 20 years of imprisonment and fines of up to $30,000 for each count, Powell said the judge could sentence her to probation.
“If she’s treated like every other citizen, she will get probation,” Powell said, adding that his client has not previously been charged with any crime. “Ultimately, it is Judge Price’s decision,” he said.
The policy of the attorney general’s office does not allow attorneys to make statements to the media, so assistant attorney generals William Lisenby and Ben Baxley, who tried the case, could make no comment.
In a prepared statement released by his office, Attorney General Troy King said, “This conviction sends a strong message that no one is above the law. This verdict proves that even judges who break the laws they apply are accountable for their actions. My commitment to the people of Covington County and citizens throughout Alabama is that, as their Attorney General, I will prosecute those who break the law and betray the public trust, and that I will take action to preserve the integrity of our government.
Today, we make good on that pledge”
Sentencing is set for 9 a.m. on Wed., Nov. 12. Phillips remains free on the bond posted after her indictment in June.