Local News

Indicted Raleigh attorney surrenders to authorities

Posted June 27, 2012 6:57 p.m. EDT
Updated June 27, 2012 10:05 p.m. EDT

— A Raleigh attorney surrendered to authorities Wednesday, a day after he was indicted on charges that he, a former Wake County District Court judge and a paralegal altered court records in DWI cases over at least the past five years.

James Crouch is charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and one count each of criminal conspiracy and altering court documents.

He was out of jail on a $50,000 unsecured bond Wednesday evening, his attorney, Joe Cheshire, said.

Former Judge Kristin Ruth and paralegal Elizabeth Michelle Daniel, a paralegal in Crouch's office, also face charges.

Ruth, who resigned in May after 13 years as a judge, is charged with failure to discharge her duties. It wasn't clear if she had surrendered to authorities on that charge Wednesday evening.

Daniel, who is charged with obstruction of justice and criminal conspiracy, surrendered Tuesday.

At issue are 46 driving while impaired cases – seven of which involved suppressing evidence of blood-alcohol levels of 0.15 or higher – in which convicted drivers may see a lighter penalty than the loss of driving privileges for a year as the law requires. Crouch was the defense attorney of record in each case.

Those convicted of drunken driving in District Court can appeal the decision, postponing a possible license suspension until the case is formally resolved.

Some defendants eventually give up their appeal in Superior Court and head back to District Court for sentencing, which triggers the start of their year-long license suspension.

In the cases tied to the indictments, documents showed that Ruth overruled another judge's conviction dates. The new dates were up to a year earlier, meaning that some drivers might have been spared a license suspension or had a shortened time without a license.

Cheshire said Tuesday that prosecutors are going too far in the case, noting that the practices in question are common at the Wake County Courthouse.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby has said that is not true.

"The thing that makes these cases so unusual is they involve one judge changing another judge's judgment without notice to prosecutors, and that sort of thing does not go on in the courthouse, that I am aware," he said. "I think the public should be reassured that whenever we have these incidents, they are being investigated and handled appropriately."

Ruth's attorneys have not responded to requests for interviews. Previously, they have said that she is cooperating with the investigation.

In a statement announcing her resignation, she said that she trusted Crouch and that he misled her by asking her to sign court orders that differed from how the attorney described them to the judge.

Bill Young, an attorney for Daniel, said she was not trying to break the law.