Local News

Former Wake judge reprimanded for role in DWI backdating scheme

Posted December 17, 2012 5:49 a.m. EST
Updated December 17, 2012 6:58 p.m. EST

— A former Wake County District Court judge who pleaded guilty for her role in the backdating of dozens of convictions in DWI cases was reprimanded Monday by the North Carolina State Bar and was ordered by a judge not to seek judicial office again.

Kristin Ruth was indicted this summer in connection with the scheme, which involved altering records to shorten or eliminate license suspensions in driving while impaired cases between 2007 and 2011.

Ruth pleaded guilty in July to a misdemeanor of failure to discharge the duties of her office.

James Crouch, the defense attorney of record in the cases, was sentenced to 12 to 34 months in prison – the harshest punishment possible under state sentencing guidelines – after he pleaded guilty in November to several charges in the case.

In many of the cases in question, investigators said, Crouch charged $750 to backdate DWI convictions, using a legal action to correct clerical errors called a "nunc pro tunc" order.

Ruth admitted to signing approximately 50 orders, prepared by Crouch's staff, without reading them.

Ruth did not speak during Monday's sentencing hearing but testified earlier this month at Crouch's sentencing hearing that she trusted Crouch.

"She's a very honorable person, and she was a great judge, and it's unfortunate that all this happened," her attorney, Rick Gammon, said. "We're very happy with the outcome today, and we're glad it's over."

Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens said Ruth's willingness to cooperate completely with investigators was a mitigating factor in his decision to continue judgment on the criminal charge, as long as she does not seek judicial office.

"Your crime, if you want to call it a crime, was trusting without verifying and, therefore, failing to carry out your duties as a gatekeeper, as by law required and the diligence we, as judges, have to maintain in order to make the system work and maintain the integrity of the system," Stephens said.

He noted that she accepted responsibility for her actions, apologized publicly and resigned immediately to "minimize any harm to the reputation" of the justice system – "a very honorable thing to do," Stephens said.

This punishment from the State Bar allows Ruth to keep her law license and to continue practicing law.

"I think the judge, today, took a unique situation and fashioned a unique result, and I think justice was served," Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said.

Elizabeth Michelle Daniel, a paralegal for Crouch who was also charged in the case, agreed to participate in the county's first offender program, which includes 75 hours of community service within six months. After completion of the program, the charges against her will be dismissed.

"She provided information that significantly assisted in the case," Willoughby said.

Daniel testified during Crouch's sentencing that she prepared the orders, at Crouch's request, and would have Ruth sign off on them because she was friendly and kind.

"She was always the most accessible judge," Daniel said. "She never got mad about the amount of stuff we were bringing to her."