Florida Judges Need DUI School

Lawyers gawked from office windows last month when a BMW S.U.V. swiped a parked police cruiser in the parking lot of a courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, then slammed into a gate over and over again.

A judge was at the wheel. As reported in www.nytimes.com.

As lawyers used smartphones to snap pictures of the morning spectacle, Judge Lynn D. Rosenthal became the third Broward County judge in six months to be arrested on charges of driving under the influence. A colleague, Judge Gisele Pollack, had been suspended five days earlier after getting arrested on a D.U.I. charge while already on leave for taking the bench intoxicated — twice.

Even for South Florida, where absurd news events are routine and the sheriff went to prison for corruption, the spate of judicial scandals has raised serious questions about whether the arrests in Broward are a bizarre coincidence or underscore a larger systemic problem. In a county where the judiciary is known for old-school nepotism and cronyism, and judges have been caught smoking marijuana in a park and found drunk and partly naked in a hotel hallway, some lawyers find themselves wondering: At what point do isolated instances of misconduct point to something bigger?

On Wednesday, WPLG, an ABC affiliate, citing anonymous sources, reported that a Broward family court judge was under federal investigation on suspicion of allowing a now-convicted Ponzi Schemer to influence a case.

And this month, a former judge in Broward was disbarred for exchanging 949 phone calls and 471 text messages with the prosecutor during a death penalty case. Yet another judge was recommended for removal in April after being accused of cheating clients and a co-counsel in the settlement of a civil suit she handled as a private lawyer a decade ago.

As it turns out, bad behavior by judges has become distressingly common across Florida in recent months. Judge John C. Murphy in Brevard County is on leave after he was caught on video this month threatening a public defender, who later accused the judge of punching him in the head. In the Keys, a judge who was replaced on the bench after dozing off told a local news reporter that Ambien made him hallucinate about “ ‘Fantasia’ and the dancing brooms.” Another stepped down because a blogger exposed a sexually explicit profile the judge had posted on a gay dating site.

But Broward — a heavily Democratic county of 1.8 million people with many judges who are the children, spouses, siblings and fraternity brothers of other judges and some of the region’s most powerful people — seems to be ground zero for allegations of judicial misconduct. The system’s critics say that is because Broward has a highly politicized and clannish culture that is known for protecting its own, which has led some in the judiciary to feel invincible, even as they preside over a county court system that produces the state’s highest exoneration rate.

“I do think it belies an underlying systemic problem in Broward County,” said Howard Finkelstein, Broward’s elected public defender. “I don’t think this stunningly embarrassing fact of having all these charges pending at the same time is indicative of a judiciary with substance abuse problems, but I do think it is a manifestation of the greater problem of a circle-the-wagons mentality.”

Records posted online by the Judicial Qualifications Commission, the independent agency that investigates misconduct by state judges in Florida’s 67 counties, show that 17 percent of the 62 formal disciplinary cases filed against sitting judges since 2001 have been in Broward.

Those figures do not include two judges who were recently arrested or those who resigned before a case was made public, such as Judge Lawrence L. Korda, who, in 2007, after presiding over parts of the Anna Nicole Smith case, was caught smoking marijuana in a park. (Not to be confused with Larry S. Seidlin, the Broward judge who sobbed on the bench during a nationally televised ruling on where the reality TV star should be buried.)

Many judges accused of wrongdoing remain on the bench, such as the family court judge who took in a foster child who had appeared in his court, only for the teenager to accuse the judge years later of molesting him.

“Tell me one other courthouse that at any time ever had three judges pending criminal charges, a fourth judge disbarred by the Supreme Court and another judge awaiting removal,” Mr. Finkelstein said. “And that doesn’t include the naked judge!”

In 2001, a Broward County judge was arrested on charges of public intoxication after being found drunk and naked from the waist down at a resort that was hosting a state judicial conference. Mr. Finkelstein has been there: A recovering addict, he, too, was once arrested, after using cocaine and crashing into a police car.

William J. Gelin, a defense lawyer in Broward who runs a blog, Jaablaw.com, that chronicles courthouse antics and posted a photo of Judge Rosenthal’s arrest, noted that the Judicial Qualifications Commission only reveals cases that result in misconduct charges. Most complaints against judges remain secret, which he said adds to the perception that judges feel omnipotent.

“It’s time to shine a light on these individuals and their performance, as the founding fathers intended,” Mr. Gelin said.

Michael L. Schneider, executive director and general counsel of the commission, acknowledged that the recent run of Broward judges being arrested is unusual, but that the agency dealt with cases “one at a time” and not systemically.

“The commission isn’t a punishment group,” he said. “It’s designed to evaluate fitness of somebody to be a judge.”

Broward’s chief judge, Peter M. Weinstein, said the rash of arrests was an “anomaly” that did not reflect the hard work judges do every day at the courthouse.

“It’s a big court system — we have 103 people making decisions every single day,” Judge Weinstein said. “Over all, we have excellent judges, and nobody ever reads or hears anything about them.”

A lawyer for Judge Rosenthal, Brian Y. Silber, declined to comment.

Two of the arrested judges refused a Breathalyzer test, but the test conducted on Judge Rosenthal showed that she had not been drinking. She told the police that she had taken Ambien the night before, but after failing a field sobriety test, she refused to take urine or blood tests, according to the police report. The police, suspecting that she was impaired by drugs, charged her with D.U.I.

Judge Pollack was suspended without pay, despite a request from her lawyer, J. David Bogenschutz, that her alcoholism be considered a disability. She has sought treatment and hopes to return to the bench, Mr. Bogenschutz said.

“Where a judge has the same problem 5,000 other people have, it makes news,” he said. “They are not supposed to have human feelings and human failings.”

Mr. Bogenschutz, who has represented dozens of Florida judges, recently married one of his clients. His wife, Ana Gardiner, is the former Broward judge who was disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court this month for lying about an “emotional relationship” with a prosecutor during a 2007 case. (The defendant was granted a new trial and is now serving a life sentence instead of being on death row, as Ms. Gardiner had ruled.)

“You shouldn’t get special treatment because you’re a judge, and you shouldn’t be treated more harshly if you are a judge,” said Marc Shiner, who represents Judge Cynthia G. Imperato, who was arrested in November for driving under the influence. “They are trying to make an example out of her.”

Zac Efron Taking Alcohol Abuse Seriously

Zac Efron is the latest Disney star to come out that he has spent time in rehab for alcohol abuse.

Even though Efron's life seems pretty glamorous, it hasn't been entirely easy. Behind that pretty smile, the actor has had a stint in rehab and had his jaw wired shut from a fall in his home. He has grown up in the spotlight starring in Disney's "High School Musical" movie series. As reported in celebrity.yahoo.com.

The 26-year-old actor admits he was drinking way too much. Now, almost a year out of rehab he is still sober. He has sold his glamorous home in the Hollywood Hills and moved in with his brother in the Los Feliz area where he can live a little more privately.

He is seriously committed to his sobriety. He recently joined Alcoholics Anonymous and has been seeing a therapist. He admits his battles with addiction are a never-ending battle.

Many of his former friends have turned on him since he became sober, and wisely, Efron knows that he is in a much better place now.

While Zac is still working through his personal life, his career seems to be doing better than ever with his upcoming flick "Neighbors," which also stars Seth Rogen and opened on May 9th.

It is nice to see him committed to maintaining his health and abstaining from drugs and alcohol. He is a good model for all those who have addiction. They can see that through hard work and commitment addiction can be conquered, but it is truly a never-ending battle.

DUI Program in Store for Driver with Seven Kids

Think about one of the worst parents you know. Then compare that parent to these folks?

A woman from Jonesboro, Arkansas is in jail on charges that she drove a van with seven children while intoxicated and in possession of marijuana. As reported in www.henryherald.com.

Krystal Tierra Griffis, 30, has been charged with DUI, seven counts of child endangerment by DUI, three counts of seat belt and four counts of child safety restraint violations, misdemeanor possession of marijuana and giving a false name and date of birth to police.

A real winner, right?

What time of day do you think this happened? How about 2:40 a.m – with 7 kids in the vehicle.

On a similar note A man from McDonough, Arkansas man is being held on $750 bond in Henry County Jail for simple battery after police said he threw beer in a woman’s face Memorial Day.

Steven Anthony Crawley, 36, threw the beer at his former girlfriend.

Is this not simply deplorable behavior? Do you think if these two had taken alcohol awareness classes in their past they might not have out themselves in these types of situation?

These are right out of Jerry Springer. I hope both are forced to take alcohol and drug classes as part of court-ordered punishment.

Headed for DUI Class a Bunch of Mullarkey?

As a counselor for in-class and online alcohol classes I am always on the lookout for news stories involving alcohol, drugs and driving under the influence. This story is not just a bunch of malarkey.

It is the humble advice of this man that you should always treat a police officer with respect, even if you think you are being treated unfairly. Getting hostile is never the answer and can only serve to exacerbate an already volatile situation. A 30-year-old man, accused of kicking a police sergeant in the stomach and injuring another officer after police were dispatched to investigate the report of a motorist driving erratically was charged with two counts of assault on a police officer, interfering with an officer, threatening and driving under the influence. As reported in www.fairfieldcitizenonline.com.

The hostile assailant was one Alan Robert Mullarkey who also threatened the lives of officers' families during his arrest. Officers noted that he appeared to be highly intoxicated. You think?

Mullarkey refused to perform field sobriety tests and wouldn't take a Breathalyzer test at police headquarters. He continued to make matters worse when kicked a police sergeant in the stomach when he was being placed in a patrol car and injured another officer's finger.

During the booking process, he also made several comments and threatening statements about officers and their families. Mullarkey said he would shoot officers' families and would get a gun to harm officers if he were released from custody.

It comes as no surprise that we are talking about a career criminal with serious issues. Mullarkey, described by police as a convicted felon who was recently released from prison after shooting someone with a firearm.

I hope he gets some counseling and takes a reputable alcohol//DUI course.

Alcohol Class Could Help Keep Cancer Away

I know that headline sounds hokey, but believe it or not, it is true.

Yet another report is offering a strong reminder that alcohol is a known cancer-causer, and advising those who drink to take in no more than one to two drinks a day. As reported in www.ctvnews.ca.

Cancer Care Ontario released new recommendations back in April on how best to manage the risks of alcohol.

Their report found that, despite the wealth of studies noting the health risks of alcohol, only a third of Canadians are even aware they can lower their risk of cancer by reducing their alcohol intake.

Cancer is a carcinogen. And there’s very clear evidence of that. Most people know about the risks of smoking, and smoking being a risk factor for cancer. But alcohol is a risk factor for cancer too.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer considers alcohol a Class 1 carcinogen. Do you realize what that means. That puts alcohol in the same class with asbestos, smoking, ultraviolet radiation, and diesel exhaust.

From my experience as a counselor with both in-class and online alcohol classes it seems that most people are unaware of how clearly alcohol has been linked to cancers of the mouth and throat, such as esophageal and pharyngeal cancers, as well as liver, colorectal, and breast cancers.

Even small amounts of alcohol have been shown to increase the risk of some cancers. The relative risk of oral and pharyngeal cancers, for example, is increased by 21 per cent for those consuming one drink or less per day, compared to non-drinkers. The risk also increases with the amount consumed.

Heavy alcohol drinkers -- meaning those who have more than four drinks per day -- are at a substantially increased risk of cancer.

For those who do choose to drink alcohol, the agency says to reduce one’s cancer risk - women should not drink more than one drink a day, men shouldn’t drink more than two drinks a day.

Increased attendance at alcohol classes can help educate people on the true dangers of the drug (yes – it is a drug). But education can only take one so far. At some point the mind has to understand the dangers and not take the unnecessary risk. You wouldn’t ingest a teaspoon of asbestos would you?

Online DUI Education Can Help Save Lives

This is the fourth in our week-long blog series here at onlinealcoholclass.com looking at the horrific possible consequences of drinking and driving. Each day we are looking at a different incident where someone lost their life because another person chose to get behind the wheel while intoxicated. This incident took place in El Cajon, California.

Mario Alberto Carranza was allegedly drunk when he lost control of his car, sending it off the freeway and killing two passengers. He hopes to get away with it. Carranza, whose arm was in a sling as he made his court appearance via video, was ordered held on $1 million bail, pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges. As reported in www.10news.com.

The 26-year-old Carranza was driving on the interstate at 7:30 a.m. when his vehicle drifted into the center divider. He then overcorrected, and the car smashed through a chain-link fence before ending up in a concrete culvert. That sounds like a drunken driver or one who had fallen asleep.

Carranza obviously is seriously guilty of driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol as the San Diego resident’s blood-alcohol level was measured above .30 -- nearly four times higher than the legal limit.

Two passengers, Monica Lupercio and Carlos Vargas, both 20 years old, were killed and Carranza was seriously injured.

Carranza has a history of DUI behavior having been convicted back in 2007. He now faces 30 years to life in state prison if convicted of two counts each of second-degree murder, vehicular manslaughter and DUI causing injury, along with one count of possession of cocaine.

Again we see that drinking and driving are a deadly combination. Why do people think that they are safe in their huge chunk of metal? I’ll tell you why – because alcohol makes people believe do stupid things.

Another Life Lost to a Multiple DUI Offender

As we finish up Alcohol Awareness Month (April, 2014) we here at onlinealcoholclass.com are seeking to highlight the need to stay out of the car if you have been drinking. Each day we are highlighting yet another fatal incident involving the combination of drinking and driving.

The family of Ben Woodruff knew Thursday morning would be the plea hearing for Scott Spangler, the man who caused the fatal 2013 head on collision, killing the father of two. As reported in www.wbir.com.

"I want to make it clear that I do not hate this man -- although I hate what he did," Joy Woodruff, his sister, said sobbing at Spangler, shortly after he pled guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault. The Sevierville man's license was already revoked, after he had five prior DUIs.

"There will never be justice, because you can't bring Ben back," his mother said.

The family is not only upset for what happened to Ben, and his 8-year-old son, Ethan, who's still undergoing constant rehabilitation, but because of his sentence: 20 years in jail, with parole eligibility after serving 30-percent, or six years.

"There's no opportunity to adjust that in any way right now that gives the judge the ability to say 'no.' Six years is not enough," Woodruff's widow, Beth, added.

In August 2013, 50-year-old Spangler drove is car on John Sevier Highway, crossed the center line, and struck the Woodruffs' car. The Woodruffs' car ricocheted toward a third vehicle, critically injuring two other people.

Prosecuting attorney Sarah Keith said Spangler was found urinating on the road and there was drug paraphernalia in his car. He'd been high on crack cocaine and Xanax.

"Are you entering this agreement voluntarily today?" Judge Steven Sword asked Spangler.

"Yes," he responded.

Family Wants Change

After learning of Spangler's parole eligibility, the Woodruffs say 30-percent of the sentence it's not enough.

"There's no opportunity to adjust that in any way right now that gives the judge the ability to say 'no'," Beth Woodruff said. "Six years is not enough."

Even though Spangler had 5 prior DUIs, they're not on the same punishment scale as aggravated vehicular homicide. That means he's eligible for parole after serving that minimum 30-percent of the sentence.

That means, with time already served, his first parole hearing is in 2019.

The family is working with attorney Darren Berg to change the guideline, through new proposed legislation.

"We want to give the option for the trial judge to be able to determine what the release eligibility date would be," Berg said.

It could be introduced next general session that would give that parole determination up to judge.

After five DUIs, and Spangler's already revoked license, the family wants to make sure he learns his lesson.

Avoid Tragedy by Learning the Dangers of DUI

As we are currently finishing up Alcohol Awareness Month, we here at onlinealcoholclass.com are attempting to reiterate the extreme danger associated with driving under the influence of alcohol – most notably – that it kills!

They say everyone deserves a second chance. Does this include those who have been convicted of driving under the influence (DUI)? As reported in timesofsandiego.com.

A repeat drunken driver fled a California Highway Patrol officer while racing, before eventually crashing in Oceanside and killing his brother-in-law.

The driver was 23-year-old Jorge Luis Lopez, who also admitted to charges of drunken driving with injury, reckless evasion causing injury, participating in a speed contest causing death, assault with a deadly weapon and three counts of assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer.

Now the 23-year-old will be in prison until well-after his 40th birthday. His brother in-law, Marco Gutierrez, 21, of Oceanside, died at the scene of the wreck, and did not live to see another birthday!

Lopez was speeding in a 1991 Honda Civic– apparently racing the other motorist – when an officer spotted him on shortly before 1 a.m. back in November, 2012 in Oceanside, California.

The other driver slowed down, but Lopez refused to yield and fled at speeds up to about 100 mph, soon merging onto Interstate 5.

Yet another tragedy where alcohol and an automobile are involved. Alcohol makes us do dumb things. How can we wire our brains to keep us from getting behind the wheel after drinking?

DUI Prevention Too Late for Cop who Killed Someone Driving Drunk

Could taking a simple 8-hour online alcohol class have saved a couple of lives and not completely ruined the life and career of a police officer? Unfortunately we will never know the answer to that question.

A former North Chicago police officer was sentenced to 10 years in prison for causing a fatal crash while driving drunk the wrong way. As reported in www.chicagotribune.com.

To his credit Terrell Garrett pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated DUI and the judge imposed the 10-year prison term as a part of a plea deal between defense lawyers and prosecutors.

Two friends, Joaquin Garcia, 25, and Fabian Torres, 27, were killed in the crash.

Garrett was driving his SUV north in the southbound lanes by Belmont Harbor when he slammed into a Jeep containing Torres and Garcia as well as a car driven by Eve Yeaton, fracturing her wrist in three places and leaving her with a concussion and chronic pain in her shoulders, back and legs. Garrett shattered his hip and fractured a leg.

Prosecutors charged Garrett with six counts of aggravated DUI and two counts of reckless homicide, saying he had a blood-alcohol content of 0.184.

The consequences are almost never considered.

The family will never be able to celebrate a birthday, Father's Day, Mother's Day, New Year's Day, Thanksgiving or Christmas with Garcia or Torres again. They will never be able to go to the beach together, have dinner together or talk about new phones together.

Eve Yeaton, who was in a third car driving to work and was badly injured, struggled to the front of the courtroom. She said she continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, but she forgave Garrett, who wept as he listened from the defense table.

When it came his turn to talk, Garrett hesitated for a long time as he appeared to be trying to keep his composure. He said if he could he would trade places with Garcia and Torres.

Again, if he had to do it over again he never would have gotten behind the wheel. Would an alcohol class have kept him from making that fatal mistake? Again, we will never know.

10 Hour Alcohol Awareness Class May Have Saved Army Career

Sometimes a simple action can change your life. This is a simple truth of being a citizen of the planet Earth. Each decision we make has the potential to impact our lives on ways we never imagine. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that deciding to get behind the wheel after drinking alcohol can have a life-changing impact.

If you do not believe me, just ask Lisa Maldonado. She has first-hand knowledge of how driving under the influence of alcohol can permanently affect a life. To her credit, she is acting to try and influence teenagers so it does not happen to them. Most recently she spoke to a group of high school students. As reported in www.recordnet.com.

A county sheriff's deputy stood by and an audience of hundreds of teenagers watched Maldonado be sentenced for drinking and driving and witnessed her goal of joining the military slip away.

"Don't drink and drive" is a message drilled into teens over and over, but in an effort to make it stick, local attorneys a Superior Court judge decided to take the court to schools and conduct DUI hearings in the county Superior Court system's "Choices and Consequences" program.

What might have appeared to be staged was a genuine court hearing set up at Linden High School.

The 20-year-old Maldonado agreed to have her case unfold in front of students in hopes they heed her warning.

Maldonado was looking forward to becoming part of the U.S. Army before she made a crucial mistake one night that changed her future. After drinking with friends, she got hungry in the middle of the night and decided to drive to McDonald's intoxicated.

The high schoolers fixed their eyes on Maldonado as a deputy handcuffed her and escorted her out of the building after the sentencing.

She was sentenced her to three years' probation and one day in jail and ordered her to pay a $2,825 fine.

I think this a strong program and should be implemented more often in high schools across the country. I have long espoused the need for mandatory alcohol awareness classes. The alcohol classes, combined with real life experiences like Maldonado’s, may not only save futures but lives.