Crouch sentenced to 12-34 months

Attorney James Crouch
December 4, 2012 3:23:27 PM PST
Attorney James Crouch was sentenced Tuesday after pleading guilty last month to changing court documents.

He will serve 12-34 months in prison.

Crouch and Judge Kristin Ruth were indicted by a grand jury in June for their alleged handling of dozens of DWI cases.

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 matter after he was alerted to the issue in a letter from Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby.

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

Prosecutors said Crouch duped Ruth -- who pleaded guilty in July to a misdemeanor charge of failing to discharge the duties of her office -- into signing orders that allowed DWI defendants to forgo license suspensions or have those suspensions shortened.

They said in one case the scheme kept a man convicted of DWI from being considered for an ignition interlock system designed to keep him off the road when he was drunk.

Ruth had admitted that she improperly signed dozens of orders without reading them and did not know that orders allowing DWI defendants to avoid license suspensions had her signature on them.

"I signed them and did not read them because I trusted James Crouch," Ruth said.

Crouch told the court, his family and supporters Tuesday that the scheme to alter judgments was all his.

He pleaded guilty last month to two felony counts of obstruction of justice, one felony count of conspiracy, and one felony count of altering documents.

Crouch said Ruth and his paralegals were involved only because he took advantage of them.

"I apologize to this court and Judge Ruth first and foremost," Crouch said. "I stand before you a man disgraced, humiliated ... and I deserve it."

Crouch -- who has been stripped of his law license and his practice -- choked back tears after hearing his step-son ask the judge for mercy not just for Crouch, but for his entire family.

At one point, Crouch acknowledged that he is viewed by many as brash and arrogant, and said he now realizes that that was to compensate for his low self-esteem.

"If you choose to send me to prison, I accept that and will go with honor, dignity and purpose," he said.

While Crouch technically faced a maximum sentence of up to 13 years behind bars, Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway explained to his courtroom that according to sentencing guidelines from the Legislature, that maximum sentence would only apply if Crouch had an extensive criminal record.

He had no priors.

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