Although he publicly promised to “face these consequences” after refusing a breathalyzer and being arrested for DUI in May, Baldwin County Commissioner Chris Elliott has managed to keep his driving privileges for the time being by arguing license suspension would do “irreparable harm” to his career and his work as an elected official.
According to court records, Elliott should have lost his license for 90 days beginning June 28, but he successfully sued the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency in order to stay on the road.
State law imposes a 90-day suspension of driving privileges for anyone who refuses a breathalyzer exam, but Circuit Judge Lang Floyd ruled in Elliott’s favor and set a date this coming January for the commissioner to have his day in court.
Elliott was arrested for DUI May 14 after running a flashing red light in downtown Fairhope following his attendance at the annual Fairhope Rotary Steak Cook-off.
He issued a statement indicating he was aware of and accepting of the legal ramifications facing him for refusing the breathalyzer.
“There are consequences for my decisions and I will face these consequences,” the statement read. “I apologize for my actions and regret any embarrassment that this may cause the county that I serve, the law enforcement officers that keep us safe and my family that I love dearly. Since this is an ongoing personal legal matter, this will be the extent of my comments on the subject.”
On July 1, though, Elliott’s attorney Rob Stankoski filed suit against ALEA, arguing the agency did not inform his client of the results of a June 22 administrative hearing prior to the date Elliott’s license would be suspended.
“Usually what happens is when a client gets arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and they fail to submit to the chemical test they get a notice that the driver’s license will be suspended. And then you have a right to petition ALEA, write them a letter, and demand what’s known as an administrative hearing on the suspension,” Stankoski said. “We did that. We went to the administrative hearing, at which time I made my legal arguments and objections to the notice of suspension. They never gave us a ruling. And so they already had a notice of suspension in place so I had to file a lawsuit because they wouldn’t give me a ruling and his license would have been suspended.”
Stankoski also argued in the suit that losing his license for 90 days would do tremendous harm to the commissioner.
“Additionally, the Petitioner will suffer irreparable harm and damage by the suspension of his driving privileges. He will be unable to work and serve in his elected capacity as a Baldwin County commissioner.
Unless the Court enters an Order directing that the Agency reinstate the Petitioner’s driver’s license, the Petitioner will suffer the aforementioned harm and damage,” the suit reads.
Stankoski says there was no intent to argue that Elliott’s political position should give him any extra consideration in the case.
“I didn’t file that specifically because he’s a county commissioner, and I’m not making arguments in there that he deserves this more than anyone else because he’s a county commissioner. I filed it because a lot of times my clients ask me. They say ‘I can’t work, I can’t support my family.’ They can’t do what they need to do,” Stankoski said.
ALEA did respond to the suit July 22, simply recounting that the agency received a sworn report from a law enforcement office that Elliott was arrested for DUI and directed to take a breathalyzer but refused.
The agency asked the court to set a hearing date to affirm the decision to suspend Elliott’s license. An ALEA spokesperson said the agency would not comment on a pending case.
And while Elliott’s initial public statement indicated an acceptance of punishment for refusing the breathalyzer, his lawsuit appears to challenge the basic notion that he was, in fact, driving after drinking at the cook-off.
“The Petitioner further alleges that there is no factual or legal basis to sustain the administrative suspension of his driving privileges,” the suit against ALEA reads.
Stankoski says Elliott, who until recently was assigned a county-owned vehicle, drives “a lot.” He said the commissioner drove 30,000 miles inside the county in one year alone. At the Baldwin County Commission’s Oct. 4 meeting, he was reimbursed $1,581.25 for mileage. By all reports Elliott was in a privately owned vehicle when he was arrested.
Lagniappe attempted to contact Elliott to ask whether he thought fighting to keep his license from being suspended after refusing a breathalyzer meshed with his sworn duties to uphold state laws. He did not respond prior to deadline.
“So where that stands now is he can effectively drive because his license has not been suspended and then we have a trial coming up in January,” Stankoski said. “We’ll have a trial in front of a judge and ALEA will have the right to put on evidence to support the suspension and we’ll have the right to challenge that as to why the suspension should not take place.”
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