Judge candidate's drunk driving case tossed in plea deal
Royal Oak — In a plea agreement with the city attorney’s office, a candidate for the Oakland County Circuit Court bench pleaded guilty Wednesday to littering and acknowledged responsibility for careless driving in exchange for having a drunken driving charge dismissed.
Julie A. McDonald, 49, of Bloomfield Hills was arrested Sept. 8 on Woodward Avenue after a police officer saw her toss something out a driver's side window of her 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe and make an unsignalled turn onto the busy roadway.
“I was driving down 11 Mile and threw a cigarette out the window and on the street,” McDonald told Royal Oak 44th District Judge Jamie Wittenberg at a pretrial hearing in which the plea agreement was entered.
McDonald made no reference to drinking; the littering offense is a misdemeanor, while careless driving is a civil infraction.
Misdemeanors are punishable by jail time and fines of $245.
Satisfied that McDonald understood the agreement, Wittenberg accepted the plea and allowed her to remain free on bond pending a Dec. 13 sentencing date. Wittenberg also ordered McDonald not to use alcohol or controlled substances except for prescribed purposes.
He said she is to report to the probation department for an alcohol screening assessment prior to the sentencing. A first-time drunken driving conviction, while a misdemeanor, is punishable by up to 93 days in jail and other conditions.
McDonald would not respond to questions from reporters. Her attorney, Lawrence Sherman, said “My client sincerely regrets her actions.
“Clearly this situation was avoidable and she is disappointed in herself for allowing this to happen,” Sherman told reporters outside the courtroom. “She has spent a lot of time reflecting on her actions and the negative consequences brought about by them. She is truly sorry.
“As a candidate for public office, she has an obligation to set a higher standard,” Sherman said. “She recognizes that responsibility and is committed to achieving it.”
City attorney David Gillam said after reviewing the facts in the incident, it was determined that the plea agreement was appropriate.
“Her actions, her driving, speed, was not excessive or outrageous,” Gillam said. “She tested at about the level of intoxication.”
Gillam bristled at a suggestion that McDonald received special consideration because she is a judicial candidate.
“Our office doesn’t prosecute people based on their jobs or what they might be in the future,” he said. “...This is not a matter of pay $245 and you’re out the door... She will be interviewed by probation officers and the judge has much discretion in sentencing, including putting her on probation for up to two years.”
Gilliam noted the matter is also being reported to the Attorney Grievance Commission and the Judicial Tenure Commission, which can also determine whether other penalties could be appropriate. Those supervising agencies have a broad range of powers, including suspension of licenses to practice law, even disbarment.
Police said McDonald, who was driving a few miles over the posted speed limit — 54 miles per hour in a 45 mph zone — before being stopped south of Catalpa about 10:45 a.m.
She fumbled with papers inside the vehicle and gave the officer an expired registration and insurance papers for the vehicle. The officer smelled an odor of alcohol inside the vehicle and described McDonald’s eyes as “watery and bloodshot,” according to a police report obtained by The News under the Michigan of Freedom of Information Act.
McDonald subsequently failed field sobriety tests and when asked if she had been drinking, told the officer she had four vodka-and-soda drinks the night before. She recorded a .10 blood-alcohol level, and later at the police station, a .08 level, at which a motorist is considered intoxicated.
During the ride to the police station, McDonald fretted to the officer on how she was running for office and the arrest would reflect badly on her. When the officer told her he had no discretion in the matter, she calmly said she understood.
Later while sitting handcuffed in the patrol car’s back seat, she managed to make a call on her cellular phone. In the conversation, according to a patrol car videotape, she told the person she called for help: “I’m screwed…”
Despite the plea agreement, there is nothing preventing McDonald, the daughter of retired Oakland Circuit Judge John McDonald, from being elected to the judgeship, which until a few weeks ago appeared to be uncontested.
The newly created judicial seat on the Oakland bench carries a six-year term and pays $145,558 a year.
Following her arrest, four other attorneys — Michael Blau of Farmington; Maryann Bruder of Huntington Woods; Edward Nahhat of Royal Oak; and Corrine Shoop of Southfield, all registered as write-in candidates with the Michigan Bureau of Elections.