Local News

Judge won't delay DWI attorney's corruption trial

Posted September 27, 2012 1:03 p.m. EDT
Updated November 13, 2012 11:11 a.m. EST

— A Superior Court judge on Thursday denied a defense motion to delay the trial of a Raleigh lawyer at the center of an investigation into the "unusual handling" of dozens of DWI cases

James Crouch was indicted in June on charges stemming from accusations by Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby that Crouch altered court documents and backdated convictions to lessen penalties for clients in at least 46 driving while impaired cases over the past five years.

Crouch faces two counts of obstruction of justice and one count each of criminal conspiracy and altering court documents.

Defense attorneys Joseph Cheshire and Brad Bannon asked Judge Paul Ridgeway to reschedule the Dec. 3 trial date because they need more time to prepare.

The attorneys said that they are researching other DWI cases over the last several years and still need to review a large volume of information that has taken more time than expected for them to get from the state Administrative Office of the Courts, the Division of Motor Vehicles and other state agencies.

"Everyone considers this case to be a fairly important case for this courthouse," Bannon told Ridgeway. "In the end, what it's really about is Mr. Crouch, who faces 57 months in custody."

In some instances, it has taken the defense two weeks to get information that the state is able to get in 24 hours, Cheshire said. They still need to review the information so that they can interview witnesses.

"Whatever his reasons are, (the DA) wants to drive this case to trial," Cheshire said.

Willoughby, however, said Crouch's attorneys have had enough time to prepare, since Crouch was indicted in June, and that the depth of the information they are seeking is irrelevant to Crouch's case.

"I would ask, Your Honor, to keep this case on track," Willoughby said. "Lawyers with the skill of Mr. Bannon and Mr. Cheshire would be able to prepare and try a case in this period of time."

Although Ridgeway denied the motion, he did extend deadlines for the defense to file further motions in the case.

Speaking after the hearing, both sides called the case important to the credibility of the court system.

"I think it's important for us to put the light of day on what was going on here, and I think it's important for the public to see what's happening in its court system and see if laws are being violated," Willoughby said.

"I think, when we get through looking at it, you'll see what James did was not outside the culture of the courthouse, which means there was no criminal intent at all in what he did," Cheshire side.

Two other people were also indicted in the case. Former District Judge Kristin Ruth 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 who worked for Crouch was also indicted. Her case is still pending.