White-Collar Crime

Former NC Judge, Defense Lawyer and Legal Assistant Indicted re Court's Handling of DWI Cases

A former North Carolina judge, a defense attorney and an assistant to the lawyer have been indicted by a Wake County grand jury in a case related to the judge’s handling of up to a dozen or more driving while intoxicated cases.

Kristin Ruth, who served as a Wake County District Court judge for 13 years before stepping down in May, defense attorney James Crouch of Raleigh and his legal assistant, Elizabeth Michelle Daniel, all face criminal charges concerning an unknown number of nunc pro tunc orders signed by Ruth that changed a defendants’ conviction dates, the News & Observer reports.

While such orders are routinely used to correct clerical errors, documents at issue in a State Bureau of Investigation probe show that Ruth signed orders that changed conviction dates in cases handled by other judges and defended by Crouch, the newspaper explains. Backdating the convictions to an earlier date could have meant that the convicted defendants had their driver’s licenses suspended for shorter periods than the standard year or not at all.

Ruth faces a charge of unlawfully and willfully omitting and neglecting to discharge the duties of her office. Crouch is charged with conspiracy, altering documents and obstruction of justice. Daniel is charged with conspiracy and obstruction.

In a statement released through her attorney when she stepped down in May, Ruth blamed Crouch, contending that he had misled her into signing documents she admittedly didn’t read that, she claimed, didn’t say what he told her they said. She also said Crouch had admitted to her that he violated her trust and promised to make the situation clear to the district attorney.

“To date, he has taken no such action,” Ruth said in the May statement. “As a result of my inattention in failing to read the orders before I signed them, I believe my resignation is necessary to maintain the integrity of the judicial system. I trusted the wrong person, but that does not excuse not reading the orders before I signed them.”

Crouch’s lawyer declined to comment in detail but urged that judgment be withheld until all the facts are known.

The article doesn’t include any comment from Daniel or her attorney.

The newspaper says other judges and lawyers in the Wake County courthouse are wondering why the SBI probe has seemingly focused only on Ruth and Crouch, since, as the News & Observer puts it, “the practice has been one used for years in Wake County.”

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Judge Probed re DA’s Claim of Possible ‘Unauthorized and Illegal Judgments’ in DWI Cases”

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