Local News

Former Wake judge pleads guilty in DWI probe

Posted July 30, 2012
Updated December 4, 2012

— Former Wake County District Court judge Kristin Ruth, who was indicted in a scheme to alter court records on driving while impaired cases, pleaded guilty Monday to a misdemeanor of failure to discharge the duties of her office.

Ruth broke down several times during her testimony in the two-hour hearing in Wake County Superior Court, saying she accepted responsibility for failing to scrutinize improper orders that were brought to her for signature.

"They were not legitimate orders,” she said. “They were not mine to sign.”

Under the terms of her plea agreement, Ruth, 55, will not seek elected public office and will continue to cooperate with the state’s investigation into the matter, which includes the indictments of two other defendants.

James Crouch, the defense attorney of record in the cases under question, was indicted on two counts of obstruction of justice and one count each of altering court records and criminal conspiracy.

Elizabeth Michelle Daniel, a paralegal in Crouch's office, was indicted on one count each of obstruction of justice and criminal conspiracy.

The indictments allege that evidence of blood-alcohol levels of 0.15 or higher was wrongly suppressed in seven cases and that the convictions of 39 other drivers were back-dated, meaning that some might have been spared a license suspension or had a shortened time without a license.

In a statement announcing her resignation in May, Ruth said she trusted Crouch and he misled her by asking her to sign court orders that differed from how he had described them.

Ruth reiterated those feelings during Monday’s hearing before Judge Donald Stephens, repeatedly saying she signed the orders without reading them because she trusted Crouch, whom she has known for years. He had been in her courtroom numerous times, and she knew his wife and family.

“I absolutely trusted James Crouch because I had no reason not to trust him,” she said. “There would be no way he would bring an inappropriate order to me. In my mind, they would be legitimate.”

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby presented evidence gathered by Kanawha Perry, a special agent with the State Bureau of Investigation. Perry said he reviewed files and Department of Motor Vehicles records for 40 to 50 cases and conducted interviews with DMV employees and the defendants.

Perry testified that Ruth “back dated” the sentencing dates on several cases and that convicted drivers were given “shortened or reduced” periods during which they could not drive.

For example, driver Kevin Gillespie was convicted on a DWI charge and sentenced in August 2010 but never actually had his license suspended, according to Perry.

Perry testified that after Ruth was given the case in July 2011, Gillespie was given a new conviction date of April 2010 with the notation that his license had already been suspended when it had not.

Perry said Ruth also ordered suppression of breath tests in some cases.

When Ruth’s attorney asked her to describe the impact her resignation had on her after serving more than 13 years on the bench, she broke down.

“It has been a life changing event,” she said. “There has been a void in unfinished business…having to leave has been a very difficult process.”

Ruth said her goal when elected in 1998 was to be a “judge that made a difference,” and said it was an honor to serve the citizens.

“I’m a farm girl from Kansas,” she said, crying softly. “Who would have thought that I could have been a judge in Wake County.”

Stephens said Ruth became "a victim of her own trusting nature" who violated her oath and abandoned her role as gatekeeper.

"Judges are supposed to conduct themselves in a manner that demonstrates to everyone that justice does not play favorites," he said. "If a judge fails in the role as a gatekeeper...the integrity of the court system is completely compromised and the public's trust in the system is lost."

Stephens also lamented her departure, saying the court lost a good judge. His comment drew applause from those in attendance.

Sentencing will be held at a later date.

109 Comments

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  • jackcdneh1017 Jul 31, 2:56 p.m.

    Gotta love the outpouring of support for Judge Ruth. It speaks volumes about ordinary citizens understanding of American jurisprudence. The problem in our courts today is exactly what this episode illustrates. With enough money and important connections, you can escape justice and if you do not hire the right attorney with those important connections, you will get burnt by the courts. Judge Ruth is properly vilified for "trusting" her friend, Crouch. How many times has she sided with one of her friends in family court, overlooking real evidence, and judging based on her "trust" in some other lawyer. Her associate, Judge Debra Sasser is well known to support her lawyer friends in family court this way too. Judge Stephens shows his complicity in this way of jurisprudence too, when he publicly supports and mourns the demise of his friend Kristen Ruth. Folks, please acknowledge that you cannot trust any of the judges in Wake County when this kind of thing is so commonplace.

  • freeadvice Jul 31, 2:36 p.m.

    Some people let their "positions" go to their heads. People seem to just be sorry they get caught. . .not that what they did was wrong to start with.

  • duster 340 Jul 31, 2:33 p.m.

    I see some people take her side but note She plead guilty!!!!

  • newtonatlaw1 Jul 31, 2:20 p.m.

    I have practiced law in the Wake County courthouse since Judge Ruth took office.My experience is that she is one of the finest individuals I have had the privilege to work with. She is warm, caring and generous with her time for citizens in the busy district courtroom day. Many will gleefully disparage our justice system and all lawyers for this incident; I remind you Lawyers are humans too, and honesty and integrity in the face of error (even when admitting our own failings and weaknesses) are what sets us apart. Judge Ruth's acceptance of responsibility, truthfulness in court and print against her own interests, and willingness to put the integrity of the court ahead of her aspirations are the only relevant evidence of the integrity of this fine woman. I am extremely proud to be Judge Ruth's colleague and Campbell family. Losing her degrades us all in seeking justice for citizens, particularly in hard and deserving cases. Deborrah L. Newton

  • samr Jul 31, 1:19 p.m.

    That she signed what was placed in front of her by a trusted attorney in no way diminishes her integrity, which is far above all reproach. tmcenally

    We are taught from early on that you NEVER sign something unless you know what you are signing. If she is that trusting and signs things without knowing what it was, she isn't qualified to be on the bench no matter how good of a job Stephens feels she did. We are still recovering from an economy decimated by fallout from mortgages that were signed by borrowers who either didn't pay attention to, didn't understand and/or trusted the persons presenting them.

  • YippiYiyoKiYay Jul 31, 12:38 p.m.

    Stephens also lamented her departure, saying the court lost a good judge............A GOOD JUDGE!..WHAT? How about an INCOMPETENT judge, or a CROOKED judge, or a STUPID judge. And who knows, maybe she was just in love and never thought her man would use her like that. But she was surely NOT a good judge. Would be interesting if someone looked back to see if any of these offenders murdered someone with their cars while driving drunk after the fact. Then that would make your "Good Judge" an accessory, along with the other crooks in this little scheme wouldn't it?

  • satman1 Jul 31, 11:58 a.m.

    I for one will not miss her smugness.

  • Dadof4girls Jul 31, 11:47 a.m.

    @tmcenally ... you are either a family member, benefited from one of these cases or was awarded unfair amounts of money in your divorce court from this woman who was very opinionated and ALWAYS one sided. Never fair! Not that she sided with the man or woman but she definitely made up her mind before hearing any testimony.

    Does anyone want to sue her for the financial damages and for the stress and heartache she caused? I am in!

  • jimcool59 Jul 31, 11:28 a.m.

    Well! Who was the judge on this one? Why did it take 2 hours to try a flipping mistermeaner? Because it was a judge!? I want to personally thank her for my case that got tossed. I want to personally thank the prosecutor who turned his blind eye that morning and allowed my case to be burried in paper. I waited for over two years and spent a lot for that one day,My laywer made a bundle and did nothing but look at her and nod it away.No wink of the eye. Just a sincere nod of the usual.It was a great day!So thank you judge for allowing me to terrorize our world in a drunken and driving fashion and continue to have a license to commite it. And I want to thank this judge for letting her be tried as a mistermeanor and not the felon we all else would be. Yes life is a vessel for sea going snitches is what we are bought and made of. And our new judge of now is a proud part of it!Thank you! JUDGE! If not for you and you I would not be enjoying my leagl ride I so enjoy tonight. God! I love you!

  • tmcenally Jul 31, 11:23 a.m.

    Kristin Ruth was/is an excellent jurist, a fine atttorney, and a warm and genuine person. That she signed what was placed in front of her by a trusted attorney in no way diminishes her integrity, which is far above all reproach. Her only "crime" is that she dared believe that everyone would follow her own sterling example. I support and defend her unequivocally, as do all who know her.

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