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Judge, Deputies Take Sober View of Tipsy Lawyer

Times Staff Writer

A Burbank attorney, representing a man charged with flying a plane while intoxicated, was himself admonished Wednesday by a Ventura County judge for coming to court intoxicated and an hour later was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving.

The attorney, Elmer O. Docken, 64, arrived in the courtroom of Municipal Judge Lee E. Cooper Jr. more than two hours late for the trial of a client charged with flying a private plane from Pacoima to Oxnard while under the influence of alcohol.

After conferring with the judge in chambers shortly after 11 a.m., Docken was ordered to take a breath test, which showed he had a blood alcohol level of 0.289%, Cooper said. A blood alcohol level of 0.10% is the legal measure of intoxication.

When asked outside court whether he had been drinking that morning, Docken said, “I drink all the time.”

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“If I find you in this condition again I will find you in contempt and remand you to the custody of the sheriff to serve five days in jail,” Cooper said in court.

Docken, who slurred some of his words and wore a wrinkled suit, told the judge he was prepared to begin the trial.

But Cooper retorted, “I am not of the opinion that you are in any condition to represent a client.”

Cooper rescheduled the trial of Docken’s client, Ronald Gene Lichnovsky, for May 6. Lichnovsky, 44, of North Hollywood, is charged with misdemeanor violations of operating an aircraft under the influence of alcohol and reckless flying.

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Report to the Bar

The judge told Docken that a report of the incident would be sent to the State Bar. Cooper said Docken also had appeared to be drunk during a previous hearing in the case before another judge.

Cooper then warned the attorney not to drive while intoxicated. But later, as Docken began to drive his car out of the parking lot of the Ventura courthouse, he was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, Deputy Dist. Atty. Donald Coleman said. He was jailed in lieu of $860 bail.

A spokeswoman for the State Bar said two complaints against Docken were filed Dec. 31 and are under investigation. The nature of the complaints is confidential, the spokeswoman said.

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Lichnovsky is alleged to have narrowly missed colliding with another plane Jan. 24 after taking off from Whiteman Air Park in Pacoima. Witnesses said he flew his Piper Tri-Pacer into the path of an oncoming plane, forcing the other pilot to dive 400 feet to avoid a collision, Oxnard Police Sgt. Fred Barry said.

Lichnovsky was arrested after landing his plane at Ventura County Airport in Oxnard and failing sobriety tests there, Barry said.


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