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A drunk-driving ruling that pitted Seattle's city attorney against Seattle Municipal Court judges was resolved by the state Supreme Court today. Seattle muni judge George

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City Attorney vs. City Courts: Supremes Settle DUI Breathalyzer Dispute in Muni Judges' Favor

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A drunk-driving ruling that pitted Seattle's city attorney against Seattle Municipal Court judges was resolved by the state Supreme Court today. Seattle muni judge George Holifield - like others on the city bench - was following the law when he suppressed DUI Breathalyzer results in 2008 because of possible state crime lab errors, the high court ruled. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes - picking up a case initiated by his predecessor Tom Carr - argued that a court-wide blanket suppression of evidence was impermissible.

The state Court of Appeals agreed with the city attorney's office, but the Supremes reversed that finding, concluding Holifield was rightly following the rules of courts of limited jurisdiction (such as traffic courts). Holified, in the instant case, suppressed the test results of accused drunk driver Matthew Jacob after Jacob's attorney said the findings couldn't be trusted because the machine that determined Jacob's blood alcohol content was calibrated using a control alcohol solution - to measure accuracy - certified by Ann Marie Gordon.

Gordon is the former Washington State Toxicology Laboratory manager who resigned after she was accused of signing off on scientific tests she hadn't performed, a practice that was also covered up by the lab. (Her work also created problems in California this year). In any DUI cases currently on their schedule, Holifield and other muni judges barred results of any breath tests given before Dec. 18, 2007, the date the lab invoked new procedures for accuracy.

Noting that a King County Superior Court judge had refused a writ of review appeal by the city, Justice Richard Sanders, writing for an unanimous court, said Holifield's suppression decision was proper, "but even if it were not, it would constitute at most a mere error of law that, without more, would not justify issuance of a writ of review" either.

The supression affected perhaps hundreds of city DUI cases, although the ultimate outcome wasn't clear. Accused drunk drivers are often convicted on field test results and other evidence, with or without breath/blood alcohol readings.

 
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