The trial of a former political darling accused of having sex with inmates in exchange for favors begins Monday.

Herman Thomas was a rising star in Alabama politics, a black Democrat who kept getting elected in a county overwhelmingly white and increasingly Republican. Then his career on the bench collapsed under allegations that he was bringing inmates into his office and spanking them with a paddle. An indictment later accused him of having sex with male inmates in exchange for leniency.

He faces trial on charges of sodomy, kidnapping, sex abuse, extortion, assault and ethics violations that involved oral and anal sex, as well as the spankings.

If convicted of the most serious charges — sodomy and kidnapping — he faces from 20 years to life in prison.

The case has shocked Thomas' friends and former colleagues.

"I've always had the highest regard for him. The allegations were a complete surprise to me and everyone else who knew him," said Bob Edington, a prominent Mobile attorney and former Democratic state senator.

The oldest incident in the charges dates to 1999, his first year as a circuit judge. The first public claim against Thomas surfaced in lawsuits filed by an inmate in 2001 in Mobile circuit court and in federal court that claimed the judge offered to help him with his case in return for sex. Both lawsuits were dismissed, and Thomas' reputation remained unblemished.