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6/14/2006
California: Drunk Driving Judges Keep Their Job
California Superior Court judges convicted of DUI and attempting to use their judicial office to avoid punishment get only a reprimand.

CHP patrol carA pair of California Superior Court judges caught in separate incidents misusing their position in an attempt to escape punishment for drunk driving will keep their jobs and continue to pass judgment on other motorists. Sonoma County Judge Elaine M. Rushing and Riverside County Judge Bernard J. Schwartz were each found to have more than double the legal limit of alcohol in their bloodstream at the time of their arrest. A commission comprised of appellate court justices found their fellow judges' conduct worthy of only a "public censure" reprimand.

On June 21, 2005, while driving drunk, Judge Elaine M. Rushing hit and damaged a stone fence belonging to a private home at 5571 Crystal Drive in Santa Rosa. She continued for two miles before guiding her 2001 Porsche into a ditch on Riebli Road. She had a 0.20 blood alcohol level a the time.

When California Highway Patrol officers arrived on the scene, Judge Rushing told them that another woman had been behind the wheel. At other times she said a man she met at a friend's house was driving, another woman was in the passenger seat and she was in the back seat. Her vehicle had no back seat. The unnamed man, she said, fled up the hill after the crash, taking the keys with him.

Rushing said she had been drinking "two bottles" of alcohol, which she then corrected to say, "two glasses." When the police on the scene suspected that her story did not add up and asked her to take a sobriety test, Rushing responded, "But I'm a judge, and I told you I wasn't the driver." She continued to repeat that the officer should not be arresting a judge and that her husband, Conrad Rushing, was an appellate court justice as she was hauled away in handcuffs.

An earlier court sentenced Rushing to a ten-day "work release", a 45-hour alcohol counseling program, a $1890 fine, and three years of informal probation for her DUI conviction. For misusing her office, the Commission on Judicial Performance found a "public censure" sufficient. She keeps her job as a judge.

On July 16, 2005, a Pismo Beach police officer saw Judge Bernard J. Schwartz, 45, swerving all over the road. When pulled over, Schwartz said, "Why don't you run my license and then we can talk?" The officer asked if Schwartz was trying to say that he was a police officer. "No, I'm a judge," Schwartz responded.

With the conversation recorded on tape, Schwartz denied being under the influence of alcohol and asked if he could just go to a hotel and leave his car. "Is this really necessary, all this stuff we have to go through?" Judge Schwartz asked.

After the officer determined the judge was drunk and began to arrest him, Schwartz said, "But you know what this is going to do? This will substantially impair my career." The officer responded, "If I let you go, it could impair my career." The judge continued, "I know you guys are doing your job, but this is not good for me, I'm running for election next year and this is not a good time."

Judge Schwartz said: "There is no professional courtesy here anymore. This is [expletive]. You guys come in and appear before me." The officer responded, "We're treating you about as fair as we can, same as everybody else. What you are asking for is special treatment."

Judge Schwartz told the officers that he would lose his job if convicted of driving under the influence. The Commission disagreed and let him off with a "public censure." Judge Schwartz had already been sentenced to three years probation and fined $1,609 for the DUI conviction. Judge Schwartz at the time had a blood alcohol content of 0.18.

The full text of both cases is available in a 220k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Inquiry Concerning Judges Rushing and Schwartz (California Commission on Judicial Performance, 6/8/2006)



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