Saturday, December 1, 2007

Judge's DUI rulings eyed

By Peyton Whitely
Seattle Times Eastside bureau

There are enough questions about the rulings of the judge presiding in the drunken-driving case against King County Councilmember Jane Hague that failed challenges of his jurisdiction in three Woodinville cases may be appealed, a King County Superior Court judge ruled Friday.

In each of the cases before the court Friday, prosecutors had challenged King County District Court Judge Peter Nault and requested another judge. In each case, the challenge was denied, and Nault continued to handle the cases.

Prosecutors also challenged Nault in Hague's case, and Nault denied the challenge.

"There's a common thread running through them: the suppression of breath tests," said Mark Nelson, attorney for the city of Woodinville, which filed the three appeals heard Friday. Nault ruled Wednesday that the results of blood-alcohol tests administered to Hague in June should not be admitted at her trial, now set for February.

Nelson, whose firm Moberly & Roberts also has been assigned as a special prosecutor in the Hague case, said no decision has been made about whether to appeal Nault's decision to suppress Hague's breath-test results, but the appeals of the Woodinville cases raise similar issues.

The appeals seek to force Nault to explain his decisions, said Nelson.

"We want to know why, essentially," he said.

While similar, the cases are not identical, Nelson added. Hague was arrested by the State Patrol on Highway 520 after her car was seen swerving; the Woodinville cases involve arrests by Woodinville police.

The appeals heard Friday were filed Nov. 8, and underlying all three are Nault's record on breath-test decisions, Nelson said.

Rejections of challenges to Nault in the East Division of King County District Court have been occurring for months, Nelson said. The three Woodinville cases were selected for appeal from 10 disputed cases involving Nault.

While the specific reason for the appeals was the rejection of the affidavits of prejudice, Nelson added, the underlying purpose for originally filing the affidavits was Nault's continued denial of allowing breath-test results to be admitted in trials.

"We don't agree with his suppression of BAC [blood-alcohol content] evidence in implied-consent cases," Nelson said.

Implied-consent allows law-enforcement agencies to take breath or blood samples of drivers suspected in DUI cases without having to obtain a search warrant or court order.

State law provides that a driver, in effect, gives consent for such tests in return for the privilege of using public roadways.

The three Woodinville cases involve accusations of fourth-degree assault and of DUI.

In each case, prosecutors filed motions in October asking for another judge, and in each case, the motions were denied by Pro Tem Judge Norm Leopold, who was substituting for Nault, with the result that Nault continued to hear the cases.

Leopold and Nault "acted in excess of jurisdiction, illegally, and committed a clear error of law in denying the petitioner's timely motion for change of judge," argued Nelson in the appeals.

Superior Court Judge Helen Halpert said she would grant the appeal, allowing the matter to be heard in Superior Court, although she was not ruling on the merits of the cases. She set a Jan. 11 deadline for the parties to file responses to her ruling; a trial date will be set later.

Neither Nault nor Leopold appeared; they were represented by the civil division of the King County Prosecutor's Office because they're county employees.

Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or

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