The Alabama Judiciary Court approved a settlement in which Greene County Probate Judge Earlean Isaac agreed to retire effective August 6 and to never seek judicial office again. She was charged with ethical violations regarding her actions on issues involving distribution of money from her father’s estate in which she and her siblings were heirs.
Isaac’s father, Robert Percy Williams, died in 2003 without a will. However, in 2013 he was awarded $62,500 (after taxes $50,000) as his share in a class-action racial discrimination lawsuit regarding the administration of a federal farm program, known as The Black Farmers Lawsuit. The heirs – Williams had 15 children including Judge Isaac – then began the process of probating the estate, according to the Judicial Inquiry Commission’s complaint.
Following her hearing before the Alabama Judiciary Court on Monday, August 8, 2016, Judge Isaac issued the following statement:
“To the Citizens of Greene County: I take this time to thank you all for your support over the years. I want you to know that I was not removed from office nor was I forced to retire. It was my decision to retire. It has been an extreme honor and pleasure serving you for 47 years with 27 years as Probate Judge. I love you all and may God continue to bless you. Thank You, Retired Probate Judge Earlean Isaac” Isaac also stated that she had intended to retire at the end of her current term.
During her tenure as Probate Judge, Isaac was active in the Alabama Probate Judges Association serving as Treasurer from 2000-2001; as Secretary in 2002 and as President in 2003. In 2015, she was one of eight judges selected to serve on the Probate Judges Advisory Council established by Secretary of State John Merrill.
The Judicial Inquiry Commission leveled several charges against Isaac claiming she had violated a number of canons of judicial ethics. The violations, according to JIC, included Isaac: entering into ex parte communications with others, including her siblings; obtaining waivers outside the court and outside the presence of all parties or their attorneys; notarizing documents she knew or should have known would be filed in a preceding before her; directing the estate’s administratrix (her sister) as to who should be included as heirs; directing her attorney to request a class-action check be sent to the probate office;
inserting her personal knowledge of facts and family history into the case; misusing her status as a judge to preempt tasks normally reserved for the personal representative of the state; and her commingled status as a party and judge, “abandoning her post as an impartial arbiter.”
According to the complaint “Judge Isaac admitted to the commission that although she has served as Probate Judge of Greene County for 27 years, she was unaware of the requirements of the Canons which include her required disqualification in a probate proceeding concerning a member of her family or in which she had a person financial interest,”
Judge Isaac was first elected probate judge in 1989 and in 2012 was re-elected to her fifth term, which expires in 2018, according to the JIC.
Governor Robert Bentley will appoint someone to complete the unexpired term of Judge Earlean Issac.