It should be not be surprising that as New Jersey civil and criminal defense attorneys, my colleagues and I make our job to represent individuals accused of crimes, misdemeanors and civil infractions. In particular, we are dedicated to helping motorists accused of DWI get a fair shake within our legal system. When a driver feels that he or she has been unjustly or erroneously charged with driving while intoxicated, we are ready to lend out expertise to their case.
With the above stated, it must be said that we do have a great deal of respect for the law enforcement officers, attorneys on both sides of the aisle, as well as the members of the judiciary, who make the law work for millions of people every day. What we do not respect is the few individuals in positions of power and influence who take advantage of their status to use the law to their own benefit, or those who they favor.
While we applaud the police officers who enforce our laws and put their lives on the line every day, but conversely, we are rarely sympathetic to those patrolmen who by their deeds show that they hold themselves to a different set of standards in cases of drunk driving or other offenses. Similarly, we find that officers of the court who likewise use the law to their own advantage have much to learn about fairness and equal treatment under the law.
Being arrested for DWI or drug DUI is no picnic, especially for those who cannot afford the heavy fines and insurance assessments that follow a possible conviction. This is why we do what we do; our goal is to allow those accused of a drunk driving offense to face their accusers and have their side of the story heard. But sometimes a policeman, officer of the court, or even judges themselves will sidestep the law and apply their own version of justice.
We were reminded of this type of regrettable situation the other day when reading a news item that revealed how a retired district judge in Pennsylvania took it upon himself to fix a DWI charge that had been filed against the nephew of a local prosecutor. Not only did the event take place, but according to the news report, the former judge lied about his part in the affair while under oath to state grand jury.
Based on the news article, the state’s attorney general’s office made public the charges against 71-year-old Dwight Shaner who retired from at the end of 2013. According to reports, Mr. Shaner was a district judge when the nephew of an assistant district attorney was charged with a DWI offense as well as leaving the scene of an apparent non-injury car crash. The state trooper, who arrested the 31-year-old accused drunk driver, testified before the grand jury that the prosecuting attorney — and the defendant’s aunt — recused herself just before her nephew’s preliminary hearing before former Judge Shaner.
However, before recusing herself, the prosecutor asked the trooper is he had any witnesses to the incident in question. Seeing the request as a “red flag,” the trooper asked the judge for a continuance. Instead of issuing one, the judge summarily dismissed the charges against the defendant. According to court records, the secretary of the former judge told the grand jury that, to her recollection, it was the first time in 17 years that the judge had not granted the police a continuance from an initial hearing date.
A comment from the judge that followed may have caused more trouble for him than his dismissal of the charges. Based on news articles, the judge apparently explained his decision by saying to the officer, “Hey trooper, I hope you understand… I’m catching some heat from Linda because that is her nephew.” Causing further upset, when the trooper attempted to refile the charges against the defendant, the district attorney refused to approve the complaint, according to the grand jury testimony.
It apparently took until March of this year for the alleged “case-fixing” to be brought to the attention of the state attorney general. Subsequently, the attorney general’s office filed charges against the nephew this past July, after which the man pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in an intensive DWI probation program, which included two months of house arrest. The man also had his driver’s license suspended for one year and was ordered to pay for property damaged in the crash. According to the news report, neither the aunt of the defendant, nor the district attorney have been charged with any wrongdoing.
Charges: Ex-judge fixed DUI for prosecutor’s kin; NJHerald.com; September 12, 2014