A veteran Broward circuit judge found herself at the other end of the judicial system Wednesday — carted off to jail following her DUI arrest.
After Judge Cynthia Imperato spent Tuesday evening at a social legal function, she was seen weaving on the roadway, nearly hitting a vehicle in her white Mercedes-Benz in Boca Raton, officials said.
By Wednesday morning Imperato, 56, had been released from jail and called in sick to work. Now, she is awaiting her own judgment while her misdemeanor case plays out. Meanwhile, the Broward chief judge and Broward State Attorney's Office are trying to figure out how to deal with her arrest.
Broward Chief Judge Peter Weinstein said there is no specific protocol in place dictating how to handle a judge in this situation.
"Judge Imperato is a fine judge, she is a terrific human being and is entitled to the presumption of innocence and due process," he said.
Known as "Cindy," the former police officer and ex-statewide prosecutor is a well-liked judge, with a reputation for making decisive rulings and running a punctual, speedy docket.
State records show this was her second DUI. The first was in 1988.
Despite two calls to her cellphone, Imperato, a married mother of two, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
"He's all over the road," said a caller who phoned 911 at 9:49 p.m. Tuesday to report seeing an erratic white Mercedes-Benz turn onto Northeast Second Street from Federal Highway.
"He nearly sideswiped me twice. He's gotta be drunk," the caller, who said he wasn't sure if the driver was male or female, said. "He's really dangerous."
It was nearly an hour later and less than three miles away when police witnessed the erratically driven white Mercedes-Benz for themselves, a police report said.
Imperato, a judge since 2003, refused to take a breath test after she was pulled over shortly before 11 p.m. in the 2400 block of West Palmetto Park Road, the report said.
She was in the driver's seat with her window rolled down and was attempting to use her cellphone when Officer Robert Jesionek approached, the report said.
When he asked Imperato if she knew why he stopped her, Imperato said "she was weaving," the report said.
"I could smell a strong odor of alcoholic beverage coming from her breath. Her eyes were red and glassy. Her speech was slow and slurred. Her face was red and flush," Jesionek wrote.
Jesionek set up his in-car camera and asked Imperato to get out of her car, but she refused and said she was calling her attorney, the report said. Jesionek observed that she "was having problems dialing any numbers."
When Imperato finally got out of the car, "she used the door to push herself up" but refused to walk to the front of the vehicle, the report said.
Imperato was placed under arrest at 11:05 p.m., her car was towed and she was taken to jail.
At the station, she refused twice to take a breath test and said "she was refusing to do anything," the report said.
Imperato was booked into jail shortly after 1:30 a.m. and released shortly after 7 a.m. Wednesday, records show. She was given a Dec. 2 court date.
Although refusing a blood-alcohol test results in an automatic suspension of a driver's license, she can request a hearing with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to challenge the suspension, DUI defense attorney Carlos Canet, who is not handling Imperato's case, said.
"Without a breath test, a DUI is much more difficult to prove," Canet said. "She's going to be golden, she's going to be able to drive uninterrupted despite the alleged refusal … and unless she looks like she's impaired [on the police video], she has a pretty good case."
State records show this was Imperato's second DUI arrest.
After an April 1988 DUI arrest with property damage or personal injury in Leon County, Imperato's license was suspended for 180 days and she attended DUI school, according to records.
Prior to her Tuesday arrest, Imperato had attended a social legal function at an Italian restaurant in Boca Raton hosted by an organization of civil trial attorneys.
Kate Baloga, executive director of the Palm Beach County Justice Association, confirmed that Imperato had been at the Tuesday evening joint reception between the Palm Beach and Broward associations at Maggiano's Little Italy at 21090 St. Andrews Ave.
On Wednesday morning, a sign on Imperato's courtroom door at the Broward County Courthouse said she would be out sick for the day.
Her daily docket included 32 defendants who were scheduled for hearings, including at least one person who was supposed to have the charges against him dropped.
Whether Imperato's arrest will affect her role on the bench is unclear.
Although Chief Judge Weinstein is certain that some felony DUI cases are pending in front of Imperato, he has not yet made a decision about her judicial assignment. He has the authority to assign her to any division he sees fit.
Similarly, Broward State Attorney's Office officials said they were trying to determine what effect the judge's arrest might have on the prosecution of DUI-related cases already pending before her.
Imperato was first appointed to the bench in 2003 by then-Gov. Jeb Bush. She was retained in a 2010 election for a term set to expire in 2017. She makes about $142,000 a year.
From the bench, Imperato has handled a number of high-profile criminal cases, including a notorious January 2006 case where three teens beat homeless men with baseball bats, killing one.
Most recently, Imperato presided over the corruption case involving Tamarac Mayor Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco. Imperato threw out the charges against the mayor, but an appellate court said Imperato was out of line in doing so and reinstated them.
Before her judicial appointment, Imperato worked for 13 years as an assistant statewide prosecutor trying white collar and organized crime cases.
Before that she worked from 1981 to 1990 as a police officer in Tallahassee.
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