The New Jersey Law Journal by Maria Vogel-Short - November 6, 2008
Peter Tourison isn’t the first judge to come up for discipline as the result of a drunken driving conviction, but he may be the first to have tried to beat the DWI rap by exploiting the foibles of the New Jersey’s new breath-testing device. Tourison, 57, who sits in three Cape May County towns, was charged with driving while intoxicated on March 27, after he failed field sobriety tests and an Alcotest at the police station. He later pleaded guilty. The DWI itself would have been enough for the Advisory Committee on Attorney Ethics to bring charges, which it did, but what he did while in custody at the station could stiffen his discipline. Tourison attempted to apply Chapstick to his lips, which delayed the Alcotest. According to protocol for operating the device, nothing can be in or around a driver’s mouth for 20 minutes before the test is administered. When the police took the Chapstick away, Tourison produced and used another tube before it, too, was confiscated.
Then, when a patrolman turned his back, Tourison placed a penny in his mouth. It’s a common ploy, says Herbert Leckie, of DWI Consultants in Lebanon, who trains lawyers and police on Alcotest operation. While the penny won’t affect the test, the presence of an object in a suspect’s mouth may show the officer didn’t perform a proper oral inspection, thus fouling the testing process. Tourison’s test showed a 0.08 Alcotest reading, the threshold for drunken driving. He pleaded guilty to the DWI charge on June 25 before Penns Grove Municipal Judge David E. Krell. A separate charge of careless driving was dismissed. The matter was prosecuted by Cape May County First Assistant Prosecutor J. David Meyer, who had said that if Tourison contested the charges, more charges would be lodged, such as obstructing the administration of law or other government function. Tourison’s attorney in the DWI case, Point Pleasant solo John Menzel, says Tourison put the penny in his mouth because he was nervous. He says the judge could have contested the evidence because the two Alcotest readings weren’t taken 15 minutes apart, as required by protocol.
The ACJC charged Tourison with violating Canon 1, which requires judges to observe the highest standards of conduct and violating Canon 2A, which compels a judge to respect and comply with law and uphold the public confidence. He was also charged with violating Canon 5A(2), which mandates judges not demean the judicial office through their extra-judicial activities. The ACJC also charged that Tourison violated Rule 2:15-8(a)(1), with misconduct in office, and Rule 2:15-8(a)(6), with conduct prejudicial to the administration of office which brings the judicial office in disrepute. Judges convicted of DWI are issued at least a reprimand and higher discipline, such as censure or suspension from the bench, if there are aggravating factors. It is possible that Tourison’s police-station antics might cause the ACJC to seek a heavier sanction. Somerset County judge Rosemarie Williams was censured after pleading guilty to DWI, based in part on a prior ethics history. Atlantic County judge Michael Connor was censured for convictions of DWI and leaving the scene of an accident. Judge Donald Collester Jr., while on the Morris County bench, was suspended for two months after a second DWI conviction. Tourison did not return a reporter’s call, and neither did his lawyer in the ethics case, Robert Ramsey, of Donini & Ramsey in Trenton.