Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Judge calls for Warren prosecutor to resign



By Janice Morse
Enquirer staff writer

LEBANON - A Warren County judge on Tuesday called for Prosecutor Rachel Hutzel's resignation, saying she acted improperly when she advised her teenage nephew to refuse a breath-test for drunken driving.

Hutzel said she will do nothing in response to Warren County Court Judge Dallas Powers' statement - except take issue with it.

Hutzel had met with Powers about an unrelated matter around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, yet Powers never mentioned his concerns. Minutes later, Hutzel's office received a call from a reporter seeking comment on the judge's faxed statement.

"She has breached her duty to the citizens of this county that she has sworn to protect," Powers' statement says, alleging Hutzel's advice to her nephew this month constituted a serious ethical breach.

Asked why he didn't discuss it with Hutzel first, Powers replied, "I figured she'd find out soon enough."

Powers handles around 500 drunken-driving cases annually, and says he is outraged that the county prosecutor would advise a defendant to refuse a breath test - a primary piece of evidence in such cases.

Hutzel doubts Powers was aware that she had court-ordered custody of her nephew, 17, when she advised him to refuse the breath test after a June 6 traffic stop on Ohio 123 in Lebanon.

Hutzel said she thought the resulting automatic license suspension was appropriate. Hutzel's nephew went before a judge appointed by the state Supreme Court because of Hutzel's position, and a prosecutor from outside her office. The teen admitted guilt and paid $185 in fines and costs. He was sent back home to Virginia with a one-year license suspension and requirements to complete substance-abuse treatment programs.

Hutzel's son, Matthew Blazey, 19, was a passenger in the vehicle her nephew was driving. Blazey also admitted he had been drinking, Hutzel said, and a special prosecutor was considering whether he would face any charges.

"I'm handling it completely appropriately as an elected official with a couple of teenagers in my custody who did something stupid," Hutzel said.

Powers was unable to cite any specific ethical code that he thought Hutzel may have violated. Hutzel said Powers "needs to take a closer look at the Code of Judicial Conduct," which requires judges to remain impartial and independent. Both officials denied the dispute would strain their offices' professional dealings. But Hutzel said, "As his lawyer, I would have advised him not to do this."

E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com




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