Montgomery County’s trial run (no pun intended) of having one Judge handle every single DUI case in the county will be discontinued next year. Instead, the workload will be split between the eight judges who currently hear criminal cases. This news will have substantial ramifications going forward for all litigants and their attorneys in Montgomery County.
DUI Court started in January, 2014. Court of Common Pleas Judge The Honorable Cheryl Lynne Austin was assigned to be the sole judge presiding over every single DUI case. She dealt with a massive load of cases that in the end turned out to be too voluminous. Initially, the Court tried to help her by having other Judges handle ARD cases, but that was not enough and a huge backlog began to develop. It seemed inevitable that DUI Court would be disbanded although rumors persisted for the last 6 months that a new Judge would take over DUI Court.
In a statement, Linda Sposato, a victim’s advocate for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) , said that the group was disappointed with the decision and hopes that the resources can be found to reestablish the single-issue court going forward. However, it is our opinion that the Court does not have the resources to devote two Judges to DUI cases, full-time, and that one Judge simply cannot handle the volume of that Court. As a result, we are sounding the death knell for Montgomery County’s DUI Court here. It simply won’t be back after it’s dismantling at the end of 2015.
While the DUI Court’s fate is clear, the fate of the District Attorney’s DUI unit is not. The District Attorney’s office has dedicated prosecutors who work on nothing but DUI cases. There may not be enough of them to cover all eight Judges that will be handling DUI cases in 2016, a fact that District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman candidly acknowledged in her statements, so it remains to be seen if the unit will be disbanded or if it will continue and attempt to cover all DUI cases in all courtrooms for 2016. One DUI prosecutor that I spoke with felt strongly that the unit will not be disbanded.
DUI dispositions make up approximately one-third of all criminal cases; presiding over all these cases, as District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman aptly described, is a “herculean task.” Nevertheless, many considered the court to be a success, and it was highlighted in multiple news outlets as a path for other counties to follow. It will be interesting to see if any other counties follow suit given the experience in Montgomery County.
Judge Austin will move to Orphan’s Court.
For more information on ARD and drunk driving cases generally, follow these links. If you or someone you know has been charged with DUI in Montgomery County or one of its surrounding suburbs, contact a Fairlie & Lippy attorney today for a free consultation.