A Sonoma County judge Friday sentenced an 11-time drunken driver to three years in state prison, denying defense requests for probation.
In handing down the punishment for James Luker, 47 of Santa Rosa, Judge Elliot Daum lashed out at the District Attorney's office for what he said was political grandstanding for publicizing the outcome of another repeat drunken-driving sentencing a few days earlier.
Daum said a news release issued by prosecutors complaining about a one-year county jail sentence issued to five-time drunken driver Emilio Guzman Garcia, 35, was politically motivated and filled with "grotesque misstatements and half-truths."
The judge expressed anger about the ensuing newspaper article, which he said came on the eve of his departure from the criminal bench and the beginning of a re-election campaign for District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua. He said the Luker decision would not be influenced by the publicity.
"I'm offended by it," said Daum, a former public defender, in a rare flash of emotion that threatened to overshadow the case. "I do not want litigation in this court by press release."
Passalacqua denied his comments on the case were politically based. He said the public has the right to know about decisions that affect public safety and that his office issues statements about proceedings on a routine basis.
And although he said he was pleased the judge didn't give Luker probation, he criticized him for not handing down the four-year prison term recommended by probation. Passalacqua said Luker has an extensive criminal record that includes theft, violence and child endangerment and was sentenced to prison in 2006 for his last DUI.
"This person has once again demonstrated he is a danger to the community and refuses to take advantage of treatment," Passalacqua said. "There's too great a risk to the public."
Prosecutors said Luker was arrested on his most recent drunken driving conviction on Oct. 1 after he took off in his girlfriend's car while he was waiting in a Target parking lot. Luker took the car to a liquor store and was pulled over sometime later with a 0.13 blood-alcohol content, prosecutors said.
According to a presentencing report, Luker requested drug treatment and county jail time. His attorney, Ande Thomas, said Luker had an "emotional breakthrough" during his probation hearing and that he suffers mental illness.
Luker acknowledged in court that he was an alcoholic.
"I just want one chance at a program so I can help myself," Luker told the judge, his voice cracking.
But Deputy District Attorney Craig Brooks said Luker could get treatment in state prison. He said Luker had been through three programs already and additional effort at the county level was not appropriate.
Daum agreed with prosecutors and handed Luker a the three-year prison sentence.
Multiple DUI cases are not unusual, and Luker is not even the worst offender. Daum was scheduled Friday to hear of a possible settlement of Robert Feenan, 50 of Windsor, who is accused of his 13th DUI from an incident earlier this fall.
His case was postponed.
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