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BEHIND BARS: Lockette Issues Restraining Order Against Probate Judge

By   /   August 24, 2011  /   Comments

Former Albany police detective Vincent Romone Wadley and his attorney no longer are alone in advocating for Wadley’s release from jail as he awaits a second trial on a child molestation charge.

Dougherty County Probate Court Judge Nancy Stephenson has entered the fray after being asked by attorney James Finkelstein to consider releasing Wadley on bond.

Chief Dougherty Superior Court Judge Willie Lockette’s response to Stephenson’s potential involvement was a first in Stephenson’s career: A restraining order preventing the Probate Court judge from conducting a “writ of habeas corpus” hearing; habeas corpus is a legal action through which a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention.

Wadley will get a new trial because of Dougherty Superior Court Judge Denise Marshall’s conduct during the 2010 trial, which resulted in Wadley’s conviction. Chief Dougherty Superior Court Judge Stephen Goss issued the ruling in July ordering a new trial, which followed Marshall being disqualified from the case by Superior Court Judge Richard Porter of Cairo. Goss ordered Wadley to be continued to be held without bond, however.

Leading to Lockette’s restraining order, District Attorney Greg Edwards had requested a “writ of prohibition” preventing Stephenson from conducting a hearing on whether to release Wadley on bond. A writ of prohibition is a legal action directing a subordinate to stop doing something that they may not do, according to law, but are doing.

“Out of an abundance of caution, and so that we can fully explore the issues both legally and factually, and with all great respect and deference to the Probate Court, and with great reluctance, I defer for now making a ruling on the petition for writ of prohibition,” Lockette said in his court ruling last week. “However, I do issue a temporary restraining order to the Probate Court of Dougherty County not to conduct a hearing on the petition for writ of habeas corpus within the next 30 days. And within that period of time I invite all of the parties to reconsider their position, including the status
of the pleadings in this matter, and whether or not there needs to be an adjustment to have the clerk take actions to make this matter appropriate for the Court to continue presiding over.”

In seeking the Probate Court’s involvement in the case, Finkelstein cited a state law that allows writs of habeas corpus to be presented to Probate Court judges except in capital felonies or in which the detainee is being held for extradition. Indeed, Lockette says that the unique case has generated strong interest statewide, including from the Attorney General’s Office and the Prosecuting Attorneys Council.

At the writ of prohibition hearing, which resulted in Lockette’s temporary restraining order, Stephenson asked Lockette if she could go to jail.

“Absolutely not,” Lockette replied. “If you did you could file a petition for writ of habeas corpus and I will sign it immediately and let you out.”

Stephenson said during the hearing that her “first instinct was just to go up to Judge Goss’ office and say, ‘If you won’t reconsider this bond request, at least give a certificate of immediate review, because this man has served a lot of  time for something that I think that when it is re-tried, probably will get a different outcome.’”
“It was something that was unfair enough for Judge Goss to say that he needed a new trial. And I have never known of that to happen in this district, in this jurisdiction. So, I am surprised that there is no bond in this case.”

“That being said,” Stephenson added, “I don’t believe the legislature intended for the Probate Court to sit in appellate review other than denials of bond by Superior Court judges. As much as I would love to have more work and more involvement in the criminal justice system, I would say that that was not what they intended.”
Lockette responded: “We could use the help, judge,” to which Stephenson said, “My impression from reading it is that their intention was that Probate Court could do it
in those places where there wasn’t always a Superior Court judge there.”

Wadley, 48, had been sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted of simulating a sexual act while on top of a 7-year-old girl — the daughter of a friend – while he was a police officer. He worked for the Police Department for five years, most recently in the theft unit. The alleged incident was reported about a year and a half after it allegedly occurred.

Finkelstein successfully argued in a legal brief that Marshall committed legal errors — “the most prominent of which,” Finkelstein contended, “was that the state never produced the alleged victim in court and, over the defense’s objection, tried their whole case based solely on hearsay.” In his 112-page brief, Finkelstein provided numerous examples from the trial transcript of what he described as “nasty, personal, and prejudicial comments of the trial judge, many in the presence of the jury.”

In his ruling Goss said that Marshall, “in the presence of the jury, stated what she believed the evidence to be. This requires a new trial under Georgia (law).”

Finkelstein maintains that his client is innocent.

“To reiterate what I said at the Aug. 18 hearing, Mr. Wadley is innocent of his crime,” Finkelstein said. “As a pretrial detainee, he is entitled to be released on bond.  He was released on his recognizance (he was allowed to sign a $10,000 bond instead of having to post it or pay a bondsman) from October 2009 through the end of the trial on May 24, 2010. He attended every hearing and every day of trial, was never late, and his conduct while out on bond was impeccable.

“If anyone wishes to see why the facts in the trial showed that he was innocent (in fact, it is likely that no crime was ever committed), the May 2010 trial transcript is on file in the Clerk of Court’s office, case number 10-R-215.”

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About the author

Owner / Editor / Writer

Tom Knighton is the publisher of The Albany Journal. In November, 2011, he became the first blogger to take over a newspaper anywhere in the world. In August of 2012, he made the difficult decision to take the Journal out of print circulation and become an online news agency, a first for the Albany area.

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