Former Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesman Graeme Zielinski will walk away from a third drunk driving conviction after his attorney, John H. Bradley, identified loopholes leading to Zielinski’s no-contest plea on what is being treated as his first operating while intoxicated (OWI) offense.
Zielinski was found guilty of OWI in Wisconsin in 1991, and was convicted for a second OWI offense in Virginia 1999 while working as a reporter for the Washington Post.
On June 2, 2013, Zielinski was pulled over with a blood alcohol content of .231. A third conviction appeared likely to land him in jail, and the outcome of his case may prompt changes to Wisconsin law.
Zielinski filed an affidavit with the court challenging his Virginia conviction on the basis that, at the time, he did not know he had constitutional rights to a jury, the presumption of innocence, calling his own witnesses, and testifying on his own behalf.
He charged, “the conviction in 1999 in Fauquier County General District Court was entered in violation of my right to assistance to council.”
Assistant District Attorney Monica Hall could prove the Virginia conviction occurred, but after the court found his testimony “credible” the DA’s office felt they were unable to argue against Zielinski’s claims. Virginia law allows criminal traffic court records, which Media Trackers requested for Zielinski’s case, to be destroyed after ten years. The Court issued a ruling agreeing with Hall.
Like his June 2013 drunk driving arrest, the Virginia case also included a citation for Zielinski’s failure to register his auto.
Interestingly, Zielinski’s attorney is the son of liberal Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley. Bradley’s website claims John has a “passion for defending people and advocating for individual’s rights.”
The second loophole Bradley used on Zielinski’s behalf is written into Wisconsin law. Because his first conviction was more than ten years ago, Zielinski will avoid additional penalties for being a repeat offender.
Zielinski walks with a $900 fine, installation of an ignition interlock in his vehicle for a year, and a revoked license for eight months. A typical second OWI conviction would have sent Zielinski to jail for a minimum of five days.
Zielinski, who is widely known for his active use of Twitter, endorsed Democrat Jon Richards for attorney general this week.
“Great news for people who want an Attorney General who applies the law, not the #TeaParty commandments, that @RepRichards is running,” Zielinski wrote.
According to Richards’ legislative office, the legislator is very receptive to current initiatives to change Wisconsin’s OWI laws.
Richards himself sponsored the assembly-passed AB 180, which strengthened blood draw laws. In his current case, Zielinski attempted to suppress use of his blood alcohol level — which was determined from a blood draw — with a 32 page brief, Bradley’s third attempt at loophole.
According to his office, Rep. Richards is working with Republican Rep. Jim Ott’s office to close more first-offense OWI loopholes.
Legislators are also looking to close the 10 year loophole used by Zielinski to avoid jail time. Rep. Richards confirmed to Media Trackers he supports AB 68 — legislation that could have landed Zielinski in jail even with the voided Virginia conviction.
Right Wisconsin reports Democratic Jefferson County DA Susan Happ may have signed the Walker recall petition. John Bradley from Madison also appear on petitions.
The Jefferson County DA’s office cited Zielinski’s case as a flaw in Wisconsin OWI law.
View Zielinski’s case files here:
The motion to suppress the blood draw
The affidavit supporting throwing out the Virginia conviction
The judgement stipulation with Court’s opinion