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Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012 06:25 am

The second time around

Prosecutor loses driver’s license after latest DUI arrest

A veteran prosecutor has lost his bid to keep his driver’s license after refusing to take a breath test after being arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in January.

Michael Vujovich, an attorney with the State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor’s office, told the state police sergeant who stopped him on Jan. 6 that he had consumed as many as six beers. But Vujovich during a Feb. 16 hearing before Sangamon County Associate Judge Chris Perrin testified that he was fit to drive.

The case marks the second time in less than two years that police have arrested Vujovich on suspicion of drunken driving. Vujovich refused a breath test after he was arrested in December 2010 in Menard County but kept his license after successfully argued that drifting within a lane and touching, but not crossing, the fog line (on the right side of the highway) and the centerline wasn’t sufficient reason to pull him over. He was driving a state-owned car.

Most drivers who refuse breath tests or who test above the legal limit automatically lose their licenses, but the Menard County judge canceled Vujovich’s suspension and the accompanying DUI charge was dismissed. However, he was suspended from his job for 45 days without pay because he had stopped at a bar in a car owned by the state.

This time, James Elmore, Vujovich’s attorney, argued that the prosecutor had broken no laws, despite being cited for improper lane travel. Vujovich, 63, testified that he usually drives a state-owned Crown Victoria sedan instead of the four-wheel-drive pickup he was driving the night of his arrest, and the truck handles much differently.

Brice Hager, the sergeant who stopped Vujovich, said that he observed the attorney’s vehicle weave and touch the fog line five times in about one mile, twice crossing the line entirely so that his truck was straddling paint.

Vujovich testified that, in the interest of safety, it is his custom to move to the right when there is oncoming traffic.

“I don’t want to be on that centerline if that person is going to strike me,” Vujovich testified under questioning by Robert Hollinshead, a lawyer with the state attorney general’s office that is handling the case at the request of the Sangamon County state’s attorney’s office, where Vujovich was once employed.

Vujovich testified that he drank two Michelob Ultras, a beer prescribed by his physician due to diabetes, during a birthday celebration for Robert Hall, a retired Sangamon County judge, at D H Brown’s in Springfield. He said that he drank another two Michelob Ultras at the Last Chance Saloon in Salisbury while on his way home to Petersburg. Court records show that when Hager asked how much he had drunk, Vujovich said that he may have consumed as many as six beers.

“That question was sprung on me,” Vujovich testified. “I was just speculating. On further reflection I came to the realization I had two at D H Brown’s and two at Salisbury.”

A video showed Vujovich’s truck touching the fog line, but it was difficult to see the vehicle cross entirely over. Hager testified that his car’s camera doesn’t capture everything.

“At night, I can see better than what my video shows,” Hager testified.

Elmore encouraged the judge to watch the video again before making a decision. Perrin agreed that he needed another look outside the courtroom.

“To be honest, once wasn’t enough,” said Perrin, who issued his ruling the following day.

Vujovich, who travels extensively for his job, cannot drive for any reason for 30 days. Following Perrin’s ruling, Patrick Delfino, director of the State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor’s office, suspended Vujovich without pay for 30 days, saying a special prosecutor must be able to drive.

“He can’t do his job as a special prosecutor,” Delfino said.

Delfino also said that Vujovich won’t handle any DUI cases for the foreseeable future to “completely remove perceptions of impropriety.”

According to the most recent numbers available from the Secretary of State, 181 suspensions were overturned in 2008, when 1,194 suspensions were issued. In 2010, however, 274 suspensions were nullified, even though the number issued had dropped to 1,040 – it works out to more than 26 percent of suspensions issued being overturned that year. By contrast, slightly less than 17 percent of 41,900 suspensions issued statewide were nullified in 2010.

Sangamon County State’s Attorney John Milhiser said that he believes a 2009 amendment to the law that bars judges from issuing driving permits to first-time offenders helps explain the increase in reversed suspensions. Prior to the change in law, judges could allow DUI defendants with suspended licenses to drive under certain circumstances, including for employment reasons. There are no such provisions now, although privileges can be reinstated after 30 days if a defendant installs a breath-testing device in his or her vehicle.

The change likely has prompted more defendants to fight suspensions, Milhiser said.

“There’s more at stake,” Milhiser said.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.