A DWI attorney called the other day to make a prediction. The drunken driving charge against District Judge Raymond Angelini will collapse. "I am confident of that," said the lawyer, who does not represent Angelini. That's not an uncommon view in the legal community. A more cynical view resonates in the court of public opinion.
If anyone ought to know how to beat a DWI rap, it should be a judge who tries alcohol-related cases.
Whatever you make of Angelini's actions, it's clear the judge knows how to pick a lawyer. He's hired DWI specialist Ernest Acevedo III. In June 2003, police stopped a pickup after it swerved across lanes on U.S. 281 south.
The driver was a prosecutor in the district attorney's office, Dan Vela. The officer wrote that Vela had bloodshot eyes, smelled of intoxicants, failed multiple roadside sobriety tests and refused to take a breath exam.
Vela resigned after his arrest, but had better luck at trial. His lawyer, Acevedo, persuaded Judge Phil Meyer to dismiss the charges ' on grounds the officer lacked probable cause to stop Vela.
According to an Internet bio, Acevedo spoke on field sobriety testing at a 2005 conference called, "How to Try a DWI in Bexar County."
The bio also indicates he's spoken on breath testing defenses and cross-examining technical supervisors at advanced DWI seminars. Acevedo did not return messages. One lawyer describes him as media-shy, adding, "Ernie is one of the top DWI attorneys in town." District Judge Sid Harle goes further: "He's become one of the premier DWI lawyers statewide. He's had an immense amount of success."
The parallels between the Angelini and Vela cases are striking. In each case, police said the motorist was driving erratically. They had bloodshot eyes, smelled of alcohol and failed roadside sobriety tests. Police also lacked videos of the roadside tests, but took videos later at the detention center.
From an Aug. 14, 2003, Express-News report: "Defense attorney Ernest Acevedo marveled at how sober his client (Vela) was in the video and questioned whether (officer Fidel) Acosta lied about how Vela performed in the roadside tests after learning he was a prosecutor." Fast-forward to 2008. Two people who have seen the Angelini videotape say he looks sober.
"There's no sway in this guy," says one viewer. "He's rock steady."
A second viewer agrees. But notes more than an hour elapsed between the traffic stop and the videotape. As for Angelini's erratic driving, lawyers say he's got a good explanation. His cell phone. District Judge Sharon MacRae says she was on the phone with Angelini when police stopped him on Feb. 28.
"A lot of my cases," says one DWI attorney, "are generated by cell phones. They tell me, 'I was trying to text message,' or 'I was trying to call my house,' and an officer gets them for weaving." Says another lawyer, "Bad driving because of a cell phone is something every juror will understand."
Will jurors understand an inconsistency in Angelini's account? Police say he told them he'd been at a judge's house. MacRae says that probably was a reference to her, but Angelini never came over.
A lawyer says Angelini can say the officer misunderstood him. Cops don't take notes at the scene, the lawyer explains, they write reports later from memory. Police make mistakes.
It won't help Angelini that he refused a breath test. It never does. But lawyers say Acevedo has a good case, and they wouldn't bet against him.
Call Ken Rodriguez at (210) 250-3369 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.