SBI investigates Wake County judge's handling of DWI cases
Posted February 27, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — The State Bureau of Investigation is looking into how a Wake County District Court judge handled 12 driving while impaired cases, Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens said Monday.
Stephens asked the SBI to investigate Judge Kristin Ruth earlier this month, according to an exchange of letters obtained by WRAL News between Stephens and Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby.
Willoughby wrote to Stephens on Feb. 15 about what he called "unauthorized scheduling" and "unusual judgments" in impaired driving cases. Willoughby wrote that, in all 12 cases in question, Ruth had entered an ex parte order that changed the judgment dates, effectively shortening or eliminating the driver's license suspensions for defendants.
In each case, the defense attorney on record was James Crouch, who Willoughby accused of misconduct in court documents filed last month.
In addition, Willoughby wrote, Ruth gave limited driving privileges in three cases in which the defendants were not eligible. Those cases were also tied to Crouch.
Stephens responded in a Feb. 20 letter that he planned to request a review by an outside agency after determining that, while "there may be a totally innocent explanation for this conduct ... I can think of none."
"If these orders were knowingly entered," he wrote, "they could constitute evidence of misconduct, including an attempt to obstruct criminal justice."
Ruth said Monday that she had retained two attorneys, who advised her not to comment. One of those attorneys, Rick Gammon, declined to comment as well.
Stephens has requested that she not be assigned to any criminal cases while the investigation is ongoing.
Crouch has not been disciplined by the North Carolina State Bar, but Willoughby filed a motion for appropriate relief Jan. 29 against him in the case of 16-year-old Henry Horne.
Horne, who was arrested Dec. 10, was given a court date of Feb. 13, but Crouch showed up in court on Jan. 20 and told Judge Keith Gregory and Assistant District Attorney April Flythe that her supervisor agreed to put the case on the court calendar for that day, the motion states.
In North Carolina, only prosecutors have the authority to set trial dates. Flythe's supervisor, Assistant District Attorney Steven Saad, never authorized the Jan. 20 court date, Willoughby said in the motion.