In all his years on the bench, Hamilton Superior Judge William J. Hughes said he hasn’t experienced what he did this week as a defendant in a North Carolina court.
The longtime judge spoke with Indiana Lawyer Tuesday about his criminal drunk driving case stemming from an Oct. 27 arrest. He was pulled over and arrested in the Outer Banks for driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.13 – nearly twice the state’s legal limit of 0.08.
He was charged with misdemeanor driving while impaired and traffic infraction of driving left of center, and Judge Hughes said he traveled to North Carolina on Monday for what he expected to be his trial on those two counts.
Instead, the judge said he arrived at the Currituck District Court that morning to find a new reckless driving charge against him. After about five minutes before the bench there for an arraignment, Judge Hughes said he followed his attorney’s advice and pleaded guilty to the new reckless driving charge, a Class 2 misdemeanor under state statute §20-140(b).
His criminal sanction: 12 months of unsupervised probation that includes enrolling and completing an alcohol and drug assessment program within 180 days or attending at least 10 hours of substance abuse counseling. Additionally, he stipulated that he won’t operate a vehicle within eight hours of consuming any alcohol and paid a $300 fine and $143 in court costs.
“I was surprised by the resolution and quite frankly, pleased with it,” he said. “I’m not satisfied that this result had to happen, but under the circumstances I believe it was the best result that I could have ever expected. I’m certainly not happy with my conduct. I’ve learned many life lessons from this, though I’m sorry that this is how I came to learn them.”
Judge Hughes said the process in that North Carolina court was different than he’s seen before, and he came away from that experience also seeing what it’s like on the other side of the bench and how it can be confusing to defendants. Since his arrest, Judge Hughes said he followed the guidance of the Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission and removed himself from any DWI cases that have come before him in Hamilton Superior 3. Senior Judge Judy Proffitt has been presiding over those cases, and he isn’t sure at this time how long that might continue.
Judge Hughes first joined the bench in 1988 and does not have any previous discipline history with the Indiana system. The judge self-reported his out-of-state arrest to the Indiana judicial disciplinary board and he has been cooperating with that process.
Generally, any disciplinary charges come once the criminal case is complete. The Indiana Supreme Court would make any final decision on discipline once that process begins. In the past, other trial judges who’ve faced drunken-driving charges have received public reprimands for similar conduct.