Newly elected judge stopped for drunken driving gets probation in plea deal
Royal Oak – A recently elected Oakland Circuit Court judge was sentenced to one year's probation and conditions Wednesday for littering and careless driving in a September drunken driving incident but was spared jail time if she meets all conditions.
Julie McDonald, 49, of Bloomfield Hills had pleaded guilty to a careless driving offense and littering in exchange for dismissal of a drunken driving offense in the Sept. 8 incident. The offenses carry a maximum of 93 days in jail.
Royal Oak 44th District Judge Jamie Wittenberg noted McDonald had no prior criminal history and said he was following probation department recommendations in the case.
"There was a recommendation for five days in jail, but I am holding that in abeyance providing you meet all conditions," Wittenberg told McDonald, who will take the Oakland Circuit bench in January.
While the probation remains in effect until December 2019, Wittenberg ordered McDonald to return to court on Feb. 6, when he will dismiss the jail portion of the sentence providing she can show she has stayed sober and been in full compliance with his sentence conditions.
McDonald's attorney, Larry Sherman, said his is client was "embarrassed and remorseful."
"This is an unfortunate case, but I see these cases every day," said Wittenberg to the future jurist. "I do hope you remember how you feel standing there when you have people in front of you."
McDonald was assessed more than $2,000 in court fees and costs, is required to continue daily testing for alcohol use, must complete 40 hours of community service and attend Alcoholic Anonymous Meetings for "education purposes" and a Mothers Against Drunk Driving victim impact meeting.
McDonald was arrested on Woodward Avenue after a stop prompted when a Royal Oak police officer saw her toss something out of the driver's window of her 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe and make an unsignaled turn onto the busy roadway.
McDonald, who was driving 54 mph in a 45 mile zone before being stopped south of Catalpa about 10:45 a.m., fumbled with papers inside the vehicle and gave the officer an expired registration and insurance papers for the vehicle, authorities said.
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 Detroit 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 that 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 cellphone. In the conversation, according to a patrol car videotape, she told the person she called for help, “I’m screwed…”
McDonald, the mother of three teenagers and the daughter of retired, longtime Oakland Circuit Judge John McDonald, was running unopposed for a newly created judicial seat on the Oakland bench and handily won the post for a six-year term paying $145,558 a year.
She has led an exemplary life and practiced law for 23 years and will be an "outstanding judge," her attorney, Larry Sherman, told Wittenberg. Sherman noted McDonald has voluntarily submitted to various substance abuse tests since September — including 160 preliminary breath tests — all with negative results.
He cited a report sent to the probation department by Dr. Thomas Kaiser, which described the incident as "a rare episodic and unusual event and totally out of the ordinary for Ms. McDonald."
Both Sherman and McDonald declined comment outside court. Reports of her arrest have been sent to both the Judicial Tenure Commission and Attorney Discipline Board for review and possible sanctions.