Judge surrenders, slips out back

Judge Kristin Ruth's booking photo (Image courtesy Wake County Sheriff's Office)
June 29, 2012 10:40:33 AM PDT
Former Wake County District Court Judge Kristin Ruth surrendered to authorities Friday morning on a misdemeanor charge of willfully neglecting to discharge the duties of her office.

Ruth was released on her signature by a magistrate at the Public Safety Center in downtown Raleigh after arriving an hour before she was expected. Learning that an ABC11 television crew was waiting in the lobby, Ruth's attorney spoke with officials, and she was allowed to slip out the back through a secure area of the Public Safety Center.

Ruth, was indicted by a Wake County grand jury earlier this week. Also charged are criminal defense attorney James Crouch and his legal assistant.

Click here to read the indictments (.pdf)

The indictments charge Crouch with felony conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and altering documents. He signed a $50,000 bond and was released Wednesday pending his trial.

As ABC11 first reported in February, the senior resident Superior Court judge in Wake County - Judge Donald Stephens - asked the SBI to look into the handling of DWI cases after he was alerted to alleged irregularities in a letter from Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby.

Click here to read Willoughby's letter and Judge Stephens' response (.pdf)

In his letter, Willoughby said he found "a disturbing pattern of what may be unauthorized and illegal judgments."

The DA said in at least 12 cases, a person was convicted of DWI in District Court and then the case was appealed to Superior Court. After a period of time, the appeals were withdrawn, and the cases were sent back to District Court for resentencing.

In all 12 cases, Willoughby said Judge Ruth - who was not involved in either the original sentencing or the resentencing - entered orders that change the effective date of the sentencing without notifying prosecutors.

Willoughby said the orders effectively backdate the convictions and would shorten or eliminate the mandatory suspensions of the defendant's driver's licenses.

"In at least three of these cases, it appears that Judge Ruth has issued limited driving privileges for defendant without legal authority to do so," Willoughby wrote.

In a statement Ruth said she signed numerous orders for attorney James Crouch "that should not have been signed."

"I must admit that, because I trusted Mr. Crouch, I did not read the orders when they were presented to me," she said.

"I believe my resignation is necessary to maintain the integrity of the judicial system," she continued.

While Willoughby's letter mentioned at least 12 cases, the indictments handed down Tuesday listed more than three dozen.

When Crouch surrendered Wednesday, his attorney Joe Cheshire told reporters his client did not do anything criminal, or anything others have not done.

"What he has been charged with is conduct that has been consented to by district attorneys, passed on by judges. It's not conduct that is illegal. It is conduct that goes on in the courthouse on a frequent basis. And it has been criminalized when it shouldn't have been criminalized," offered Cheshire.

Ruth was first elected to the bench in 1998.

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