Sunday, November 27, 2005

Judges Bill Overton and Amy Williams, Bernie McCabe and Anne Borghetti's DUI: double standards

Anne Borghetti's DUI

This story is adapted from William R. Levesque's excellent investigative article Attorney's plea deal lifts some eyebrows in The St. Petersburg Times, 5-27-01, p. 1B

Last year the Sixth Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) recommended to Governor Jeb Bush that Pinellas County Judge Amy Williams fill the vacancy opened by the sudden resignation of Judge Charles W. Cope who was about to be impeached for misconduct. Jeb Bush agreed and appointed Judge Williams to the Sixth Circuit despite the fact that she is, well she is a Democrat. Former Pinellas County Judge Williams was best known as being the judge who ordered Evel Knievel to stay away from his ex-wife Krystal. But there is a better story about Judge Williams, that's not really about her at all. Actually it's about her former campaign manager Anne F. Borghetti.

On Aug. 3, 2000 a police officer pulled over Anne Borghetti, 41, for doing 70 on McMullen Booth Road, speed limit 45, in Clearwater, Florida. Ms. Borghetti is a St. Petersburg attorney and just happened to be Pinellas County Judge Amy Williams campaign manager when Judge Williams had run successfully for her judgeship. The officer said he smelled alcohol on Ms. Borghetti's breath. Furthermore he said her eyes were red and watery. He asked her to take a field sobriety test. Ms. Borghetti told him she had not been drinking and refused to take the field test. She also refused to take a Breathalyzer. So the officer arrested her for a misdemeanor DUI charge.

Not long after her arrest, Ms. Borghetti hired Skip Olney as her defense attorney. Bernie McCabe is the states attorney in Pinellas County. Jan Olney is one of McCabe's lead trial attorneys. Skip Olney's wife is assistant states attorney Jan Olney.

Since the arrest had been made in Clearwater the case was assigned to--no, not Pinellas County Judge Amy Williams--it was assigned to Pinellas County Judge Myra McNary in Clearwater. But strangely, Pinellas County Judge Bill Overton, who presides over traffic cases in St. Petersburg and who has a "reputation for handing out less-severe sentences" had the case transferred to himself without bothering to consult Judge McNary. Judge Overton later told a reporter that, "I wouldn't normally move something from north to south county. But Olney wanted it done here rather than driving all the way to North County. I didn't mind. I was trying to do Skip a favor."

According to The St. Petersburg Times, Pinellas County prosecutors rarely reduce an alcohol-related charge to reckless driving when defendants refuse both Breathalyzer and field sobriety tests. But they did this time. On Feb. 22 prosecutors presented a deal to Judge Overton. They were willing to accept a plea of no contest to reckless driving! Chief prosecutor Bernie McCabe was not available for comment but assistant states attorney Bruce Bartlett, McCabe's chief assistant, told a reporter, "I've seen Anne Borghetti in court and at other times. It is my opinion, based on what I observed [on the police video] she was not intoxicated."

So Anne Borghetti plead no contest to reckless driving. Judge Overton accepted the plea, admitting to a reporter afterwards that the prosecutors' offer had been "generous". Judge Overton withheld a formal finding of guilt and ordered Ms. Borghetti to pay $250 in court costs. Borghetti already had attended DUI school and her license had been automatically suspended for one year for her refusal to take a Breathalyzer. According to The Times an alcohol-related reckless driving charge usually leads to penalties that include up to a $500 fine, a year probation and community service. But Borghetti wasn't fined anything, received no probation and no community service!

After the trial, Judge McNary, the judge who had originally been assigned the case, told a reporter that as far as she could remember prosecutors in her court had never offered anyone such a generous deal in a DUI case. Assistant states attorney Bruce Bartlett said, "she [Borghetti] didn't get away scot-free." Anne Borghetti said, "I got no preferential treatment. The facts warranted the disposition I got." Her attorney Skip Olney said, "I thought this case should have been dropped. Prosecutors felt she needed something more than a slap on the wrist. It wasn't a sweetheart deal. She took a beating."

Since Jeb Bush placed Florida's judiciary under the executive branch 80% of his judicial appointments have been Republicans--almost twice the percentage of the registered Republican electorate. Yet he did appoint Democrat Amy Williams to a circuit judgeship. But don't kid yourself; if 100% of his appointments were Republicans, the federal government would step in--his brother being the President notwithstanding.


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