By Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun
9:13 PM EDT, October 25, 2013
When state lawmakers go home for the weekend during the General Assembly session that begins in January, Del. Don Dwyer Jr. won't.
He'll go to jail.
The Anne Arundel County Republican was sentenced Friday to 60 days in jail, to be served on weekends, for two incidents — operating a boat under the influence in a crash in August 2012 on the Magothy River that injured himself and six others, and driving a car while impaired in August of this year after Arundel police saw him speeding and swerving on Route 100 in Pasadena.
Dwyer did not talk to reporters after his sentencing hearing, but his attorney, David W. Fischer, said the delegate "absolutely" will not resign from office. He said Dwyer would "follow the court's advice to lead a sober life and to continue to serve his constituents well."
Dwyer pleaded guilty in both incidents. He'll start serving the sentence at the Ordnance Road Correctional Center in Glen Burnie in two weeks.
Judge Emory Plitt, who retired from the bench in Harford County and came to Anne Arundel to hear the case, sentenced Dwyer to a year in jail with all but 30 days suspended for the boating incident and 30 days for the driving case.
"He was driving both times. He drank both times. Let's just face the facts," Plitt said.
Dwyer will have a three-year probation and must continue alcohol abuse treatment, attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, avoid drinking and have an ignition device placed on his car to keep it from starting if he's been drinking. The judge said public officials need to be held to a high standard, and he won't go easy on Dwyer if he violates any of those terms.
"I'm not going to hesitate to send you to the detention center for the balance of the year," he told Dwyer. "You're going to be the master of your own fate."
Dwyer told Plitt he had turned to alcohol "as an escape mechanism" but through treatment has gained tools to cope.
He attended a weekend at Right Turn of Maryland, a treatment program in Baltimore, after the boat crash and spent 28 days at the Carol M. Porto Treatment Center in Prince Frederick after this summer's arrest. He's now in "after care" treatment, and he told the judge, "I have not had an urge to drink."
Anastasia Moore, mother of two children injured in the boat crash and a third who witnessed it, implored Plitt to punish Dwyer.
"Their dream day turned into a horrific nightmare," Moore said, describing how her 5-year-old daughter, Taylor, and 7-year-old son, Dylan, were tossed in the boat when it collided with Dwyer's 27-foot powerboat, the Legislator. Taylor was thrown 40 feet into the water. An older child, Drew, was behind the boat on an inner tube.
Taylor had facial and skull fractures and continues to have balance problems, memory loss and trouble sleeping, Moore said. Dylan had a spiral fracture to his arm and a neck injury, and he wakes up screaming about the crash, she said.
"We cannot give them back the life they had before the crash," she said.
After the hearing, Fischer said Dwyer's separation from his wife and the pressure of espousing political positions — including his strong opposition to same-sex marriage, restrictions on gun ownership and programs benefiting illegal immigrants — were among factors that drove his client to drink.
He said Dwyer "has received numerous death threats over the years because of the positions he takes."
"He is a lightning rod," Fischer said. "He is under tremendous pressure from people who disagree with him."
While Dwyer intends to stay in office, others wonder how he can juggle weekends in jail, counseling and the demands of being a state lawmaker.
"While it is good to know he's getting the treatment he needs, this will continue to be a distraction to his constituents if he decides to serve out the remainder of his term as delegate and run for office again," said Alan Rzepkowski, chairman of the Anne Arundel Republican Central Committee.
Donald F. Norris, chairman of the department of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said Dwyer would be wise to resign. He said any politician with two alcohol-related convictions has lost the trust of constituents and colleagues.
"He had very little effectiveness prior to his convictions," Norris said. "He'll have even less now."
Maryland voters approved a constitutional amendment last year to automatically suspend elected officials when they are found guilty of a felony or certain misdemeanors related to their official duties. If they remain guilty after exhausting all the appeals, they are permanently removed.
But Dwyer's guilty pleas were to misdemeanor charges that would not be construed as having to do with service in office, according to the state attorney general's office.
Del. Steve Schuh, a Republican who represents the same district as Dwyer, covering Pasadena, Gibson Island, Brooklyn Park and parts of Glen Burnie, said the jail stints will be felt during the end of the session in April, when lawmakers' work bleeds into weekends.
Schuh said the rest of the lawmakers from District 31 — he, House Minority Leader Nicholaus Kipke and Sen. Bryan Simonaire — will take up any slack.
"I certainly expect the other three of us to redouble our efforts to make sure our constituents are properly represented and constituent service is not interrupted in any way," Schuh said.
One thing Dwyer won't be able to do during the session is attend legislative receptions in Annapolis, where lobbyists and interest groups chat up lawmakers and alcohol is often served. Plitt forbade Dwyer from being at or near any place that sells or serves alcohol, and he emphasized that his ruling includes such receptions.
Dan Nataf, a political science professor at Anne Arundel Community College, doesn't think that ban will affect Dwyer much.
"He's not someone who is highly lobbied," Nataf said, noting that Dwyer is very firm on his positions on issues important to him.
If Dwyer were to resign, the central committee would pick a replacement whom the governor would be bound to appoint. First elected in 2002, Dwyer has not filed to run for re-election in 2014 but has held fundraisers this year, including a raffle of AK-47 and AR-15 rifles in July, according to his website.
Dwyer has been criticized by victims of the boat crash for not apologizing, but Fischer said the delegate was remorseful at an earlier hearing and accepted responsibility for drinking.
Fischer disputed, however, that Dwyer was responsible for the crash, saying the other boater violated rules of the water by turning in front of Dwyer's boat. He declined to discuss the accident further, citing the possibility of civil lawsuits.
"Everyone is sympathetic there were children injured, including Mr. Dwyer," Fischer said.
The other boater in the crash, Mark "Randy" Harbin of Pasadena, was operating an 181/2-foot Bayliner. He pleaded guilty to failing to have a certificate of number for his boat and paid an $85 fine and $22.50 in court costs, according to court records. Prosecutors dropped charges against Harbin of negligent operation of a boat and failing to avoid a collision.
Dwyer's driving arrest came nearly one year after the boat crash, on Aug. 20. Dwyer told an officer he had had two beers at a bar in Baltimore. He struggled with field sobriety tests and was charged with drunken driving, unsafe passing, driving with expired tags and other charges. Most were dropped when Dwyer pleaded guilty to impaired driving.
In Anne Arundel's weekend jail program, about 75 to 100 inmates typically report at 6 p.m. Fridays and are discharged at 6 p.m. Sundays, earning two days toward their sentence, according to Terry Kokolis, superintendent of detention facilities for the county.
Weekend inmates are held in a housing unit that's vacant during the week. They are treated like the other 300 inmates, which includes wearing jail uniforms, Kokolis said.
Weekend inmates earn diminution credits for showing up and following the terms of their incarceration, he said. A typical inmate sentenced to 60 days will actually serve 50.
Kokolis said Dwyer will not receive any special treatment as an elected official. He also recently had other high-profile inmates in his facilities, including former County Executive John R. Leopold, who was convicted of misconduct in office, and former Annapolis alderman and state official Carl Snowden, who violated his probation in a drunken-driving case.
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