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I made a mistake, says DUI Indian-American lawmaker

July 25, 2008 02:00 IST

Maryland House Majority Leader, Kumar Barve, 49, the longest-serving Indian American legislator who was first elected in 1990, and has served in this leadership position since 2003 making him one of the most influential politicians in the state, has pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol, and under a plea agreement received no jail time but only unsupervised probation and ordered to pay a fine of $200 and court costs.


Under the plea agreement, his arrest record was also to be expunged from his record if he stayed sober by abstaining from alcohol use and out of trouble for the period of his unsupervised probation for a year and also attend a meeting of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.


Barve, who represents Montgomery County in Maryland -- the most affluent county in the state with a large percentage of Indian American professionals and entrepreneurs, particularly those in the information technology industry--which includes Gaithersburg, where he maintains his residence, apologized to the community at a hearing in Montgomery County District Court.


He told Judge Mary C Reese, "I'm here to take responsibility for my actions. I will never do this again. Period."


Barve's attorney, Luiz R S Simmons, also a Montgomery County Democratic legislator  and a colleague of her client in the state House, informed the judge that Barve had completed an alcohol awareness program and also spoke of his impeccable track record of a community activist who had spent innumerable hours serving his constituents and others.


She also described him as "devoted to his wife and 83-old-mother," and said, "This was an atypical event that night," when he was arrested at about 11.40 pm on November 29.


According to the arrest record filed by Gaitherburg police officer, Shane Eastman,which was produced in court by prosecutor Colleen Swanson,  he had seen a green Acura drive out of a parking lot entrance on East Diamond Avenue and cross a double yellow line before he pulled it over.


Swanson said Eastman had smelled alcohol and that Barve's eyes were bloodshot, and Barbe who had agreed to undergo the breathalyzer and other field sobriety tests had failed the 'walk and turn' test where he couldn't maintain his balance. He had also started too soon and didn't touch heel to toe.


She said in the roadside breathalyzer test, Barve had scored 0.10, slightly more than the legal limit.


Swanson said that later at a police station, Barve had refused to take the more official and elaborate blood-alcohol

test, according to the arrest records and while he was "polite and cooperative," his speech had been "slurred and his face was flushed."


In Montgomery County, first-time DUI offenders, as Barve was, hardly if ever, received jail time, and if the breathalyzer or more official blood-alchohol level test showed only a slight increase over the legal limit, the sentence was usually "probation before judgment." This meant the judge could effectively retract the finding of guilt and expunge the plea from the arrest records if the defendant has completed satisfactorily the terms of the probation, such as alcohol monitoring and evaluation.


Although the case was heard in a Montgomery County Distrist Court, Swanson was a prosecutor from Fredrick County and Judge Reese was a visiting judge from Howard County, but it was part of an otherwise standard docket.


Barve's didn't receive any special treatment in terms of the sentencing because two other men who were also charged with DUI, including one who had scored 0.16 on a blood-alcohol test, also received no jail time but only unsupervised probation and ordered to pay a fine under the 'probation before judgment' sentence.


Barve told after his sentencing that "basically, I made a mistake and I take full responsibility for my mistake and I expect to be treated like any other citizen in the state of Maryland."


He said, "The response I've gotten from both Democrats and Republicans has been universally supportive. They feel that everybody makes one mistake in one's life, and the question is whether you are willing to take responsibility and not make excuses, and I am not making any excuses."


Barve referred to two key Republicans in the state House who had basically said that he had taken responsibility "and it's over".


"These are my political rivals and although they are friends—we don't hate each other—and we disagree on virtually everything, they basically said it shouldn't be a matter of politics and that I did what I was supposed to and case closed."


Barve added, "And, that's the response I've gotten from basically everybody. In my instance, it's a situation that there but for the grace of God anybody could be caught in that sort of situation and it's a serious matter but it's one where if you take responsibility and if you are treated the same as everybody else, then that's something that people can respect and understand."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC