Judge's Plea in Drunk-Driving Case Prevents 3rd Prosecution

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The district attorney's office tried once and failed. It tried again and failed.

Last week, faced with the prospect of crippling layoffs in their office, prosecutors offered Los Angeles Municipal Judge Edward L. Davenport a plea bargain instead of a third trial on drunk-driving charges. He took it.

The decision by Davenport, a North Hollywood resident, to plead no contest to a charge of reckless driving came after two full-fledged trials that lasted a total of 23 days and ended in hung juries.

The plea was announced Wednesday in Santa Monica Superior Court, the scheduled opening day of a third trial, of which the estimated cost to the public would have been about $10,000 a day.

If convicted on the original charges, including a special allegation of refusal to take a chemical test for blood alcohol, Davenport could have faced a mandatory 48 hours in jail and a six-month loss of his driver's license.

Instead, Superior Court Judge James A. Albracht approved a suspended 30-day sentence and a fine of $400.

Both sides said they were satisfied with the deal, which ended a case that began when Davenport rear-ended another car in Beverly Hills the evening of May 1, 1991. He admitted having drunk three whiskey-and-waters at a dinner meeting that had just ended.

"After evaluating the cost to the county in going through a third trial, it was our position that this was the best resolution for everybody concerned," Deputy Dist. Atty. Katherine Mader said.

"Obviously, Judge Davenport acknowledges responsibility for what happened that night and he has a 30-day sentence hanging over his head if he's caught drinking and driving again in the next year," she said.

"The end result is fine," said Davenport's attorney, Jacob Adajian, who represented the judge in both mistrials. "Through attrition they got him to accept this, but if it was an ordinary citizen, the case would have been over long ago."

The juries in both trials leaned heavily toward conviction--10-1 in one case, with the 12th juror undecided, and 11-1 in the retrial.

After the second one, Mader vowed to press on with a third prosecution--virtually unprecedented in a misdemeanor case.

Earlier, Adajian wanted the district attorney's office out of the case entirely, saying that former Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner was out to get Davenport because of bad feelings dating back to the 1960s, when both men worked for the Los Angeles city attorney's office.

But with the arrival of Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti late last year, Adajian sensed a change.

"I feel the district attorney's office, at least under Mr. Garcetti, has shown a lot of courage," he said, "and they have also shown to me that they're interested in protecting the county coffers, or saving the taxpayers' money."

An ironic note to the case was provided by Davenport's credentials as an expert on drunk driving. While in the city attorney's office 25 years ago, he helped write drunk-driving law, winning a U. S. Supreme Court case that allowed police to take blood samples from drunk-driving suspects against their will. He was named to the Los Angeles Municipal Court bench in 1968.

In his own case, prosecutors said, Davenport took advantage of his expertise, dodging field sobriety tests and deliberately tossing a urine sample into a toilet at the West Hollywood sheriff's station to avoid the mandatory chemical test for blood alcohol.

"I wrote the (obscenity) book on this," he was quoted as saying before he dumped the contents of the urine jar.

On the witness stand, the judge said he poured out the sample because he was denied a chance to empty his bladder 20 minutes earlier, as required by law. The officers denied that.

After the first mistrial, Adajian said, prosecutors offered to drop the allegation of refusing the blood test if Davenport would plead guilty to driving under the influence. That was rejected.

After the second one, prosecutors offered a "wet reckless" plea. This is less serious than driving under the influence, but the allegation of drunkenness would have remained on Davenport's record for seven years.

"I'm hoping we can do better than that," Adajian said Tuesday. Later that day, the "dry reckless" offer--reckless driving without any reference to alcohol--came through, and it was accepted.

The two mistrials, both in Beverly Hills Municipal Court, prompted the transfer of the case to Superior Court in Santa Monica because the supply of Municipal Court judges in Beverly Hills had been exhausted.

Albracht and his staff, who usually deal with felonies, were so unfamiliar with the technical details of the misdemeanor charge that they called a clerk from the Santa Monica Municipal Court to help compute the fine.

Davenport, 65, is still working as a Municipal Court judge in downtown Los Angeles.

Although he also hears criminal cases, he is not being assigned drunk-driving cases, court information officer Marcia Skolnik said.

According to Skolnik, Los Angeles Municipal Court officials estimate the cost of a jury trial at $2,379 a day. That includes the salaries of a judge, a clerk, a bailiff and two attorneys, assuming that the defense attorney is a public defender.

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