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Thursday, March 27, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bridge accepts treatment; DUI prosecution deferred

Seattle Times staff reporter

State Supreme Court Justice Bobbe Bridge, who was arrested last month for driving under the influence of alcohol, will seek treatment for alcoholism in a two-year, intensive recovery program rather than fight the criminal charge or serve time in jail.

Seattle Municipal Court Judge Michael Hurtado yesterday accepted a request from Bridge's lawyers that she be allowed deferred prosecution on the DUI charge. The judge also dismissed, with the city attorney's blessing, a charge of hit-and-run that had been filed against Bridge.

The agreement was standard for a first-time drunken-driving offender.

Bridge, 58, who was appointed to the Washington State Supreme Court in 2000 and elected to a full six-year term last year — was arrested Feb. 28 while driving from a party on Queen Anne Hill to her home in the Magnolia neighborhood.

According to police reports, her Mercedes sideswiped a parked pickup, and another driver then blocked her car and forced her to stop.

Police said her blood-alcohol level was 0.22 percent, nearly three times the 0.08 legal limit.

Bridge's attorneys had argued that she was unaware that she had sideswiped the truck and therefore was not seeking to avoid prosecution by leaving the scene.

Bridge, who spoke before the court yesterday, apologized for drinking and driving and pledged that she would follow every condition of her treatment program and the deferred prosecution.

"I have never been afraid of hard work, and I will use all my effort to pursue my treatment plan," she said.

As a condition of the deferred prosecution — which offers first-time offenders with an acknowledged alcohol problem a chance to get substance-abuse treatment and avoid a criminal conviction — Bridge has agreed to abstain from alcohol, attend two 12-step meetings a week, undergo an outpatient-treatment program and have an ignition-lock device installed in her car. Such devices test a driver's breath for alcohol before his or her car will start.

The treatment is very intense during the first weeks and months of the two-year program, according to Lisa Grillo, a state-certified chemical-dependency counselor.

Typically, people granted deferred prosecution meet with a counselor-led group for three hours a day, five days a week, during the first month. In the subsequent six months, they attend weekly meetings. In the last stage, they attend once a month.

The two-year treatment program is followed by a three-year period of probation, after which the charges are dismissed.

"It's a very big commitment," said Grillo. "And the idea of being in treatment for two years is scary to a lot of people."

Nevertheless, Grillo said she has seen a great many success stories during her years as a counselor with a Seattle treatment center. "It gives someone who defines themselves as having a problem with alcohol a chance to get better."

Bridge's lawyer, Jeff Robinson, said Bridge has begun her treatment at a Bellevue recovery center, has made restitution to the owner of the pickup she damaged and has been attending three 12-step programs a week.

He said his co-counsel, Bill Bowman, a lawyer who specializes in defending DUI cases, believed that Bridge's blood-alcohol levels would not have been admissible in court because of problems with the testing device.

However, Robinson said, Bridge did not want to challenge the test. "She made it clear that she did not want us to make any legal maneuvers and that she wanted to accept responsibility for what she did."

Karen Minahan, a member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving who lost her leg in a drunken-driving accident, attended the hearing to show Bridge and others that driving while intoxicated has lifelong consequences.

"It is unacceptable," she said.

Still, she was pleased with what happened in court. "She owned up to what she did and is seeking alcohol treatment. That's really important."

In granting the deferred prosecution, Hurtado said he respected Bridge's decision to own up to her problems with alcohol.

He said he hoped he would be able to congratulate her as successful in two years.

"I think justice will be served in this instance," he said.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

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