Brian Mann, 34, a Hartselle resident and Decatur chiropractor charged with poisoning his wife

Chiropractor accused of poisoning wife asks judge to recuse himself 

By David Gambino 

For the Enquirer  

A Hartselle man accused of poisoning his wife with lead from his Decatur chiropractic office asked the judge presiding over his criminal case — the same judge presiding over his divorce — to recuse himself amid allegations that the wife’s divorce attorney shared information with the judge about the criminal case, according to court filings. 

Brian Thomas Mann, 34, was arrested in September 2022 after being indicted for the attempted murder of his wife. He was conditionally released from jail after posting a $500,000 bond in January. Since his release, he’s been required to wear a GPS monitor and stay in the Morgan County Jail every weekend. 

“He’s been charged, he’s not been convicted,” said Huntsville lawyer Chad Morgan. “It just seems like, over there — and in some of the media — he’s already been convicted. I don’t believe in that at all. So, we’re going to fight it the best we can.” 

Mann is scheduled to stand trial before Morgan County Circuit Judge Charles Elliott on Nov. 18. He has pleaded not guilty. A bench trial in his divorce case with wife and alleged victim Hannah Pettey Mann is scheduled for Aug. 12. 

Court records show Mann retained Morgan on Feb. 2. Before Morgan, Mann was represented by Britt Cauthen. Before Cauthen, Mann was represented by Bennett Driggers and Christopher Weston. All attorneys sought to amend Mann’s strict bond conditions with little success. 

“The law is that (bond) is supposed to be the least restrictive means to make sure the person that’s been accused shows up for court,” Morgan said. “In my opinion, having somebody turn themselves in on a Friday and get out on a Monday — and you have an ankle monitor while you’re out — is excessive. It’s not the least restrictive means.” 

Morgan said Mann, who has no criminal history, is from the community and has turned in his passport, is not a flight risk. 

“He doesn’t meet any of the criteria that would make them believe he’s a flight risk,” he said. “I mean, if he wants to run, he could wander off on a Monday through Friday when he’s outside jail. That doesn’t make any sense. That makes it punitive, to me. And it’s punishment. It feels like punishment, which is not what bond is made for.” 

On behalf of his client, Morgan on April 2 filed a motion asking Elliott to recuse himself from the criminal case. 

“The alleged victim/wife is represented by Jerry Knight in the divorce proceedings,” the motion explains. “The defendant avers that his previous attorney advised him that Knight availed information to the Court through the divorce proceedings ex parte in reference to this criminal matter. Furthermore, Knight and Elliott are former Assistant District Attorneys for Morgan County.” 

An ex parte communication, improper in most situations, is one in which an attorney for a party provides information to the judge outside of the presence of attorneys for other involved parties.  

Knight railed against the allegations on April 17. 

“Somebody’s telling a bald-faced lie,” he said. “I’m confident that Brett Cauthen wouldn’t have communicated that to Brian Mann. I’m confident of that. I don’t know about those other two. But it was an absolute lie.” 

Cauthen did not respond this past week to requests for comment. 

“It was advised that the information had been relayed to (Mann) by one of his previous attorneys,” Morgan said. “And since I couldn’t get in touch with that attorney, I went and filed a motion on it, because I’m not going to keep waiting.” 

Knight said he’s practiced law and been in good standing with the Alabama State Bar for 50 years. “I would never have an ex parte conversation with a judge. Never ever.” 

According to the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct, lawyers shall not communicate ex parte with a judge or juror except as permitted by law. Similarly, according to the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics, a judge, except as authorized by law, should not “initiate nor consider ex parte communications concerning a pending or impending proceeding.” 

Emergency protection-from-abuse order and temporary restraining orders are examples of lawful ex parte proceedings.  

District Attorney Scott Anderson said he knows Elliott to be more than capable and competent to handle Mann’s case. 

“I know that if Judge Elliott had a conflict, or if there was even a remote possibility of the appearance of a conflict, that he would do what the law requires of him,” he said. 

A judge should disqualify himself in a proceeding, per the Canons, in which “his impartiality might be reasonably questioned, including … (having) personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding.” 

Knight and Elliott worked together in the Morgan County DA’s Office for several years beginning in 2011. Knight said he doesn’t see anything wrong with Elliott presiding over both Mann’s criminal and civil (divorce) cases. 

“A jury’s going to try the criminal case, and the judge will try the divorce case,” he said. “I don’t see anything at all improper about the judge trying both cases.” 

Elliott declined to recuse himself in an order filed on April 4. Ethics rules prohibited him from discussing the decision with The Decatur Daily, he said. 

“I take issue that it wasn’t set down for a hearing, but I’m not the judge,” Morgan said. “He just straight denied it.” 

Although divorce proceedings were filed ahead of Mann’s criminal case, according to Knight, the August bench trial will likely be delayed. 

“I’m assuming that until the criminal case is resolved, I’d have a difficult time trying a divorce case,” he said. “He (Mann) would have a Fifth Amendment right.” 

Morgan on March 27 filed a motion requesting the case be moved out of Morgan County and attached examples from 27 local and national news articles to reinforce his request. 

“Due to the publicity given to the case in the media, it will be impossible to find a jury … that has not been tainted by the media coverage of this case,” the motion reads. 

Morgan on April 5 moved to court to lift Mann’s weekend jail requirement and keep him on an ankle monitor. 

“Since January 2023, the Defendant has adhered to all his Honorable Court’s orders,” the motion reads. “He has turned himself in every weekend, he has made his weekly check-ins with Morgan County Community Corrections, and he has had no contact with the victim of any kind.” 

Elliott on April 8 denied the request to change Mann’s bond conditions. A decision regarding a change of venue had not been filed as of April 17. 

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