Monday, March 3, 2008

Sober as a Judge

I guess I am not seeing a conflict here, truly. Call me obtuse but he hasn't been found guilty he is under an accusation of DWI. It is not a crime of moral turpitude. however, perhaps out of an abundance of caution and to allieviate an appearance of impropriety perhaps Judge Angelini should recuse himself from cases involving DWI's, including intoxication assault and manslaughter.

Ken Rodriguez: Can a judge charged with DWI sentence a drunken driver?

It wasn't business as usual Friday in the 187th District Court.
For starters, defendants stood before a judge who'd just been arrested and released from the Magistrate Court system.

Secondly, the words "not guilty" rang with rare irony. Away from the bench, the judge told a TV reporter "I'm not guilty" of an alleged misdemeanor.

Finally, there was this: Hours after being charged with drunken driving, Judge Raymond Angelini presided over a docket that included a DWI plea deal.

Anyone see a conflict of interest here?
Not everyone in the legal community does.

DWI defense attorney George Scharmen: "I don't think this would impact his ability to be a fair and impartial jurist."
Defense lawyer Alan Brown: "I don't think this will affect how he'll conduct trials. I would expect him to be fair."

Innocent until proven guilty is one way to view Angelini. Tainted is another. As one lawyer who knows the judge well and likes him says: "How can you preside over a DWI case and simultaneously be accused of the same?"

Into this sticky mess steps District Attorney Susan Reed. She's asked Angelini to recuse himself from felony cases until his DWI charge is resolved.

Guilty or not, three capital letters do not merely hang on Angelini like an albatross. They glow like neon. Fair or not, the alleged misdemeanor might inspire new arguments.

"As you well know, your honor, police can twist things around," is one possibility.
Another: "From the incident report I've read, your honor, I'm as innocent as you are."

Details in the report do not look good. Two officers spotted Angelini driving erratically on Jones Maltsberger Road Thursday night. He weaved, the report said, braked for no apparent reason, almost caused an accident and wedged his right front tire in a drainage ditch. He also reeked of alcohol, used the car door to balance himself and swayed.

Still, skilled DWI attorneys have prevailed in cases with more incriminating evidence than that. So don't be surprised if the charge against Angelini crumbles.

The immediate question, though, is not innocence. It's appearance. And it appears the judge has a conflict the size of the Bexar County Courthouse.

Never mind my DWI charge. I hereby sentence you to three years in the slammer for driving under the influence.

Others wonder if Angelini might be more lenient.

Two years probation. Don't let it happen again.

Gavel sounds.
Next... .

Angelini hears no small number of DWI cases. On Feb. 27 last year, he sentenced 70-year-old Richard Davis to 15 years in prison for intoxication manslaughter.

Two years before that, Angelini sentenced 59-year-old Johnny Romo to 11 years in prison for drunk driving. Romo didn't hurt anybody. His problem was seven DWI convictions in 18 years.
Police say last week's DWI arrest was Angelini's first. Police say no one got hurt.

Lawyer friends note that Angelini is a good jurist, that he's liked and respected. They say the DWI plea deal he handled Friday was purely administrative.
"No big deal," one lawyer says. "Sentencing comes later."

Angelini is under pressure and public scrutiny. He can recuse himself or face a hearing with an administrative judge.
If allowed to resume full judicial duties, consider one of the first cases on his docket today. A DWI trial.