Why Judge Ryan won’t face DUI prosecution

Attached you’ll find the paperwork we got Monday under public records laws, explaining why a King County deputy prosecutor decided not to file a drunken-driving charge against Snohomish County District Court Judge Timothy Ryan.

As we reported, the prosecutor determined there was insufficient evidence to prove Ryan was driving impaired Aug. 29 when he was stopped by Washington State Patrol troopers near Mill Creek. Ryan refused to cooperate with sobriety tests.

Erin Norgaard made the decision to assist local prosecutors to avoid a legal conflict. Norgaard, a senior deputy prosecutor from King County, said that in the absence of Breathalizer evidence, there would be little chance of convincing a jury Ryan was intoxicated, particularly when Roger Fisher, another district court judge, was expected to testify that his friend wasn’t impaired. The two had been at a restaurant until a few minutes before the traffic stop.

KIRO-FM radio has posted to MyNorthwest.com the trooper’s dashcam video of Ryan’s driving and behavior when stopped that night. It’s worth a look.

The next stop for the case is a Nov. 27 hearing before the state Department of Licensing, where Ryan has indicated he hopes to convince the state that his license to drive shouldn’t be suspended. Under state law, anybody who refuses a breath test resulting from a traffic stop faces an automatic two-year license suspension.

Ryan isn’t the first local judge to avoid a drunken driving charge after refusing sobriety tests.

That happened in 1994, which was the dark ages for the Web, and the stories aren’t available online.

Judge David Hulbert, then on the Snohomish County Superior Court bench, was pulled over in Lake Stevens. He initially was charged with drunken driving, but the city prosecutor dismissed the charge after determining that it had been improperly filed by the officer without undergoing review. Instead, the city prosecutor reached an agreement with the judge — negotiated in chambers, no less — with Hulbert paying a $130 fine for the lesser offense of negligent driving.

That’s when somebody who was aware of the arrest picked up the phone and gave us a heads up.

As Ryan is doing, Hulbert also asked for a hearing before his driver’s license was suspended. He lost.

Voters eventually showed him the door, but it wasn’t because of that long-ago traffic stop.

Hulbert initially was a bit flip about his troubles, saying that losing his license was no big deal. “I can thumb a ride to work,” he said at the time.

The anger directed his way tempered his further statements. When the state refused to exempt him from license suspension, Hulbert released a prepared statement, vowing to abide by the decision “in the same spirit that he expects those who appear before him to abide by his decisions.”

Hulbert at the time added that he trusted “others will learn from his experience and that the citizens of Snohomish County can finally rest assured that the system works for all people regardless of their station or position in life.”

So far, Ryan has been mum about the lessons to be had in his case.

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