Raleigh, N.C. — A Raleigh defense attorney pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges that he altered court records relating to dozens of DWI convictions in an effort to lessen penalties for his clients.
James Crouch was indicted in June on accusations by Wake County's district attorney that he backdated convictions in an effort to shorten or eliminate license suspensions in at least 46 driving while impaired cases over the past five years.
Crouch, who faced two counts of obstruction of justice and one count each of criminal conspiracy and altering court documents, was set to go to trial Dec. 3, the same day he is now expected to be sentenced for the crimes.
The charges carry a maximum of 13 years in prison, but under a plea deal, they have been consolidated to two charges.
As part of his arrangement with prosecutors, he will be disbarred, and he will work to hand over current cases to other attorneys.
Crouch, 46, had no comment after Tuesday's hearing, but his attorney, Joseph Cheshire, said he believes Crouch is sorry for what he did.
"I don't think there's any question," Cheshire said. "Most people are at this particular stage. I think that James is going back and trying to re-evaluate his life and what caused him to be where he is today."
Cheshire added that the number of cases in question is a tiny percentage of the thousands of cases Crouch handled through his career.
Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby asked that sentencing be continued until next month, partly because detectives found evidence that Crouch altered documents to try to "thwart" the investigation.
Testifying Tuesday, Kanawha Perry, a special agent with the State Bureau of Investigation, said many of Crouch's clients paid him an extra $750 to change the date of their DWI convictions.
Kristin Ruth, a District Court judge, signed off on the changes.
Perry testified that he also found notes from Crouch's office records indicating plans to backdate the convictions.
"I think it's a pretty aggravated case when somebody manipulates the records of 50 or 60 or 70 DWIs and puts those people back on the road when they should have had their licenses suspended," Willoughby said after the hearing.
His accusations also led to the indictment of Ruth, who resigned in May and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in the case in July. She testified that she did not know Crouch had altered court documents when she signed them.
A paralegal for Crouch was also indicted. Her case is still pending.