Friday, March 17, 2000

Aronoff avoids trial on DUI

Ex-Senate president won't lose his license

Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Former Ohio Senate President Stanley Aronoff pleaded guilty Thursday to two misdemeanor crimes, the result of a summer auto accident after which he was charged with drunken driving.

        The Cincinnati Republican and influential lobbyist failed three field sobriety tests on Aug. 10 after his Cadillac struck a pillar in the Capitol's underground parking garage, according to an Ohio State Highway Patrol report. Acting on legal advice, Mr. Aronoff refused to take breath and urine tests that would detect the level of alcohol in his blood.

        Mr. Aronoff faced a mandatory one-year suspension of his drivers license for refusing to submit to the tests. The drunken driving charge carried a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine and a minimum six-month license suspension.

        After months of rescheduled court dates, Mr. Aronoff pleaded guilty to one count of failure to control his vehicle and to one count of impaired alertness. He paid a $100 fine, plus $118 in court fees, and left the Franklin County Courthouse without comment.

        “I would prefer to have my counsel speak for me,” Mr. Aronoff said later.

        He gets his driver's license back, minus two points from the crash.


        Although state law requires a one-year suspension for refusing a blood-alcohol test, it also says the test must be offered within two hours of an accident or traffic stop.

        “It was just beyond two hours before the test was discussed,” said Bill Meeks, Mr. Aronoff's attorney. “If it had been offered before the two hours were up, we still would have contested it, but the issue would have been different at that point.”

        Mr. Meeks said his client was not legally intoxicated that evening. The legal standard for drunkenness in Ohio is a 0.10 blood-alcohol ratio.

        A tab from Lindey's, a Columbus restaurant, showed Mr. Aronoff had two drinks that night, Mr. Meeks said. The attorney said he also had several witnesses ready to testify that Mr. Aronoff was sober.

        Mr. Aronoff had gone to the restaurant with family members to discuss a recent terminal cancer diagnosis of a close relative, Mr. Meeks said.

        “As a result, he was a little distracted,” he said.

        Stephen McIntosh, Columbus' chief prosecutor, said he agreed to the lesser charges because he had a weak case.

        “When you put it all together, it was clear in my mind that we did not have enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” Mr. McIntosh said.

        A breath or urine test result would have helped resolve the case faster, Mr. McIntosh said. But Mr. Meeks said he tells all his clients not to take such tests, because the results cannot be challenged in court.

        This was the second time Mr. Aronoff has faced drunken driving charges in Columbus.

        Mr. Aronoff pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless operation after an August 1982 arrest for DUI in Columbus. He was given a suspended nine-day jail sentence, fined $150 and lost his license for 30 days.

        Mr. Aronoff spent 36 years in the General Assembly. He helped bring money and reform to Ohio's public schools and led efforts to give 18-year-olds the right to vote.

        At the same time he secured millions of dollars worth of public-works projects for Hamilton County. His bricks-and-mortar legacy includes the Stanley J. Aronoff Center for the Arts in downtown Cincinnati and the Aronoff Center for Design and Art at the University of Cincinnati.

        Mr. Aronoff stepped aside as Senate president in late 1996.


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