Raleigh, N.C. — After being under the microscope of state and local authorities for 10 months in a criminal probe that ended her 13-year judicial career in Wake County, Kristin Ruth says that she's ready to move on with her life.
"As of yesterday, it was the green light to go ahead, to move forward with another chapter," she said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with WRAL News.
The ordeal for Ruth, who was a well-respected judge and proponent for helping defendants change their lives through the court system, ended Monday when Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens decided not to sentence her in connection with the backdating of driving while impaired convictions to shorten or eliminate license suspensions in cases between 2007 and 2011.
Ruth admitted to signing off on approximately 50 orders changing the conviction dates – prepared by the law office of former defense attorney James Crouch – without reading them.
As a result, she resigned in May, pleaded guilty in July to a misdemeanor charge of failing to uphold her duties as a judge and cooperated with investigators and the district attorney to prosecute Crouch.
"It was in my head right away that I needed to make this right no matter what was happening," she said. "I didn't know the full extent of what had happened, and I needed to do to protect the integrity of the judiciary and also the citizens of Wake County."
Crouch, who also pleaded guilty in the case, was sentenced earlier this month to a minimum of a year in prison for the crime.
Ruth says she trusted Crouch, a longtime colleague, family friend and law school classmate whom she has known for more than 20 years. When she unknowingly signed the court documents, she says, she was operating on her belief in his integrity and professionalism as a seasoned attorney.
Although Stephens said Monday that Ruth's decision to trust was not at issue in her case, her failure to verify what she signed was.
"That trust issue that we have as lawyers is the most important factor that we surround ourselves with at the courthouse," she said. "So, maybe now I'm a little wiser as to who to trust and maybe a little more cautious now, but I still believe in trusting people. For the most part, they do the right thing."
Ruth says she also regrets her actions and the harm and pain it has caused not only her family but the community and also her former courthouse colleagues.
"It's had a chilling effect on the Wake County Courthouse – what has happened," she said. "I want them to move forward, work together, communicate and collaborate to have the best courthouse in the state, to instill in the citizens of Wake County that this is a great place and that there are so many good people working for them at the courthouse."
Moving forward for Ruth – who was reprimanded by the North Carolina State Bar – means going back to the private practice of family law and working as a mediator and arbitrator for Roberts Law Group in Raleigh.
As long as she doesn't run for office again, judgment against her will be continued.
She hopes also to be able to continue the work she's done in Wake County and across the United States over the past decade with what's called problem-solving court – which involves judges giving defendants options to help them take steps to understand and remedy situations in their lives that put them in courtrooms.
"I hope I will be remembered as someone whose decisions had a positive impact on the people that came before me," Ruth said. "I hope that that will continue on and that I can still be a part of that at whatever level that anyone would like for me to be a part of."