Many public officials and public servants hold themselves to “a higher standard” to maintain the citizenry’s trust. In the case of Snohomish County District Court Judge Timothy Ryan, we would hope at the very minimum he would be held to the same standard as the many citizens who have been charged with DUI and appeared in court before him.
Cynicism, sadly, is the only response to the facts of the case, which was moved to King County.
To recap: Ryan, 65, was driving on the Bothell-Everett highway when a Washington State Patrol trooper noticed the car speeding and drifting outside its lane. In stopping and arresting Ryan, the WSP was reassuringly as above board as much as Ryan was below — the trooper noted that Ryan early on told him that he was a judge. A second trooper was wisely asked to observe.
The troopers noted Ryan’s bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and the strong odor of alcohol. Ryan said he drank one beer with a fellow judge. He refused field-sobriety tests and later refused breath and/or blood tests.
Deputy prosecutor Erin Norgaard wrote that while it appears Ryan lied about his alcohol consumption, (he reportedly had two glasses of wine instead of one beer) it is unlikely that he would be found guilty of drunken driving. Especially since his dining companion, judge Roger Fisher, told the prosecutor that Ryan wasn’t impaired. Ryan’s refusal to submit to a blood-alcohol test could be offered as consciousness of guilt, Norgaard wrote, but that wouldn’t overcome Fisher’s testimony.
Well. Who knew all you needed to get out of a DUI was to refuse all tests, and enlist a character witness to testify to your sobriety, even though the witness was not in the vehicle?
The case also raises questions about tests for impaired driving.
Ryan was recovering from hip surgery, which would explain his refusal of the roadside tests, Norgaard wrote. Fine. But the next logical question would be: Was he taking any medications following his surgery?
As the Herald’s Rikki King reported in February, drug use — legal and otherwise — is a significant factor in impaired driving. Statewide, 2010 was the first year with as many fatal wrecks linked to drugs as alcohol, though some crashes involved drivers who’d used both.
In a fatality or injury accident, blood tests are mandatory. But what about non-fatal DUI stops? What is the protocol for proving someone is impaired by something other than, or in addition to, alcohol?
Ryan has been on sick leave in recent months. For his sake, and the health of our Snohomish County courts, we urge Judge Ryan to retire now.