Tag Archives: DUI

Notes on the Coppola DUI Case

Readers commenting on today’s story about Lary Coppola’s court appearance Thursday in Pierce County District Court on DUI charges had questions I will attempt to address, having spoken with DUI defense attorney Linda Callahan.

Callahan has offices in Seattle, Shelton and other Puget Sound locations, and she is the author of the Washington DUI Practice Manual, a tome that is updated annually and referenced by defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges.

Callahan, obviously, could not comment on Coppola’s case specifically. Her responses were to my questions about DUI law in general and a “hypothetical case” (my quote marks).

Mojo7 asked, “Had the police officer actually SEEN him DRIVING or had he just been walking outside his parked car?”

As reporter Josh Farley wrote on May 3, “Shortly after 1:30 a.m., officers found Coppola seated in a silver Mini Cooper, according to Port Orchard police reports.”

The underlying question seems to be, “Is it a crime to be sitting in one’s car in an intoxicated condition?”

“It depends. It can be,” said Clallahan, spoken like a true attorney. “It depends on whether a person is in actual physical control of the car.”

Questions attorneys on both sides might ask to prove or refute the question of control: was there a witness? Was the car running? Was the transmission engaged? And so on.

On one point Clallahan was clear: simply the fact of being in one’s driveway does not put you in the clear of being charged with DUI. Conceivably, she said, one could have attended a party, had a few drinks, driven home without incident, realized one forgot one’s cell phone in the car, went to fetch it, the law pulls up for whatever reason, and, depending on other circumstances and evidence, one could be charged with DUI.

Several people, commenting on the story, suggested Coppola was getting off easy, despite repeated protests he expected no special treatment as a public official.

To recap, the hypothetical defendant I described to Callahan has no criminal history or prior driving offenses.

The defendant pleaded not guilty to the DUI charge but agreed to a “pretrial diversion,” which is an agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant.

Under conditions of the diversion, the defendant agreed:
1. To undergo a chemical dependency evaluation, attend a drug and alcohol information class and listen to a DUI victims’ panel.
2. He must pay $866 in court costs, a $200 bench probation fee and $150 to the Washington State Patrol for its emergency response the night of the incident.
3. The defendant is to remain clear of any violations for two years, at which time the charge will be reduced to first-degree negligent driving (that’s why he’s not pleading guilty to the DUI).
4. The judge did not require the defendant to have an interlock device on his car.
5. His not prohibited from drinking, but the judge advised the defendant to “be very careful about any use of alcohol.”

In a case like this, Callahan said, “That is a standard disposition. That is not a special case scenario.”

Clallahan specifically remarked on the standard-ness of a couple aspects of the judge’s ruling, including the diversion itself for a first-time offender and the lack of an interlock requirement.

The hypothetical defendant, as court records showed, had already completed several terms of the diversion agreement, including the chemical dependency evaluation. If the evaluation had shown the subject was an alcoholic or had a problem with alcohol, an interlock device unquestionably would have been required, Callahan said.

As for condition 5, allowing for reasonable alcohol consumption, Callahan said that, too, was typical in a hypothetical case like this. The prosecutor would have been able to review results of the drug and alcohol evaluation before refraining from adding a total prohibition on consumption. If the assessment of a defendant shows they have a problem with alcohol, such a prohibition is a given, Callahan said.

On a final note, the diversion is an agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant; it is the judge’s role to accept or reject it.

Chris Henry, reporter

Mayor Coppola Apologizes to Port Orchard for DUI Arrest

Update May 12: Lary Coppola, speaking as a private citizen at the Port Orchard City Council meeting on Tuesday, took the opportunity “to address the situation on May 2.” Once again he apologized to the city and to his family. His statement and a comment of support from Larry DeBarthe are within the first five minutes of the city’s video recording of the meeting. The video is posted on the city’s website.

7:45 p.m. : I received an e-mail from Lary Coppola, who believes I misquoted him in the interview with Dori Monson.

I have revised this post with deletions (struck through) and additions (italics) to indicate where the mayor believes he was misquoted.

Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola, who was arrested early Sunday morning on suspicion of drunken driving, appeared on KIRO radio Friday afternoon and apologized to his constituents.

Host Dori Monson, who was harshly critical of Coppola earlier this week, mispronounced his name … saying it as in Francis Ford etc.* But he gave the mayor props for appearing on the show. Apparently state education chief Randy Dorn, who recently found himself in a similar pickle, turned down a similar invitation from Monson.

Coppola, asked to describe the events that let to his arrest, said he was driving home from a “charity event” (that would be the Port Orchard Rotary Crab Feed & Auction Saturday at McCormick Woods Clubhouse. About 100 yards from his home, Coppola said, he saw someone “run out of the shadows and jump in a car.” Suspicious, Coppola followed the car into “a driveway” (near The Rockwell apartments, Coppola’s home) and called 911. The other driver also called 911 to complain that Coppola was blocking his vehicle, according to a police report.

Coppola said that when law enforcement arrived, “They said, ‘Have you been drinking?’ and I said, ‘Well, yeah.'”

Monson asked if, given the mayor’s .12 blood alcohol level, he should have been driving a car.

“I should not have,” Coppola said. “There’s no two ways about it. It was an egregiousgrievous error in judgment.”

Does he have a problem with alcohol? Monson asked.

“No. I drink rarely and very little when I do,” Coppola said.

“There was a time in my life I was a pretty heavy drinker in between marriages,” Coppola said, adding that over the past 20 years he has consumed alcohol “very little.” “I do not drink every day,” he said.

Monson asked what it’s like to be a public figure in this situation.

“It’s personally and professionally humiliating beyond belief,” Coppola said. “This has got to be the worst experience I’ve ever had.”

“It’s been hard on my family,” Coppola acknowledged, telling Monson that a pending adoption of his 6-year-year-old grandson, Bryce, may be in jeopardy as a result of the incident.

Coppola and his wife Dee have custody of Bryce and have raised the boy since he was a toddler. Coppola said Bryce is aware that something is wrong. “Papa, did you do something bad?” Bryce was related to have said.

What about calls for his resignation? Monson asked. Should public officials be held to a higher standard?

“I don’t really know how to answer that question,” said Coppola, who added he’s received scores of e-mails, phone calls and even cards of support since his arrest. “(They say) you’re doing a really good job as mayor. Don’t let the naysayers talk you out of it staying.”

So has the mayor entertained the notion of stepping down?

“It’s not even on the table,” said Coppola. “You can count on ‘no.’ Not only ‘no,’ but ‘hell no.”

To the question, “Would you drink and drive again?” Coppola said, “Not only ‘no,’ but ‘hell no.'”

Finally, “Do you have a drinking problem?” Monson asked, noting that Coppola’s admission of a bout with heavy drinking earlier in his life raised a red flag.

Coppola deflected Monson’s suggestion, talking about how difficult the divorce was. “It changes your perspective on about things,” he said.

He repeated that being Bryce’s dad gives him an incentive to stay sober. “I don’t want to set that kind of example for him,” “My wife doesn’t drink at all, and we don’t keep liquor in the house because I don’t want to set that kind of example for Bryce.” Coppola said.

Coppola also had a message for the locals. “I would like to apologize to the city of Port Orchard for embarrassing our city,” he said. “And I’d like to apologize to my family.”

So Dori, about that name, it’s Lary, with one “r,” like Cary Bozeman. (I don’t know what this is all about; it’s just something with our public officials here in Kitsap.) And it’s “Cop” — as in “Oh, no, the cops are here.” — “po” — as in “podunk,” the image we’re trying to shed — and “la” as in do-re-mi-etc. Thanks for your interest in our town, and you’re welcome.

Chris Henry, South Kitsap/ government reporter