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Former judge pleads guilty to mishandling cases

RALEIGH (AP) — A former Wake District Court judge has pleaded guilty to mishandling drunken driving cases.

Former Judge Kristin Ruth pleaded guilty Monday to failing to discharge the duties of her office in the handling of 69 DWI cases over the past four years.

Ruth stepped down in May after 13 years on the bench.

The 55-year-old former judge said she had signed dozens of orders that she had not fully read for defense attorney James Crouch or his paralegal, Elizabeth Daniel. Those judgments allowed DWI defendants to avoid license suspensions or the full repercussions of a conviction.

Ruth tearfully testified that Crouch abused her trusting nature and that he or Daniel would slip orders into a stack of court documents for her to sign. The indictments allege records of blood-alcohol levels were wrongfully suppressed in seven cases and that 39 drivers’ convictions were backdated — potentially changing the amount of time licenses were suspended.

Rust said on Feb. 20 she was called into Chief Wake County District Court Judge Robert B. Rader’s office. He questioned her about the unusual DWI cases that had been reviewed by the Division of Motor Vehicles, the North Carolina attorney general and others.

Ruth testified she then confronted Crouch and that he confessed to violating her trust.

Crouch and Daniel have both been indicted on charges of obstruction of justice and criminal conspiracy.

The misdemeanor that Ruth pleaded guilty to carries a maximum penalty of 120 days in jail, but she will not serve any time if she continues to cooperate with investigators.

Under the terms of her plea agreement, Ruth will not seek elected office. Sentencing will be held later.

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