Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Former mayor gets sentence placed on hold

Jon Anderson appeals earlier court decision on felony DUI


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Former Bellevue Mayor Jon Anderson was sentenced Monday to 30 days in jail for felony drunk driving, but was able to walk out of court a free man.

Fifth District Court Judge Robert J. Elgee even ordered that Anderson can remove the ankle monitor he's been wearing to detect if he's been drinking alcohol.

Anderson claims a year of sobriety following his arrest for DUI on Sept. 4, 2010, in Bellevue. His attorney, Douglas Nelson, has appealed an earlier ruling from Elgee regarding whether the offense could be charged as a felony.

Because of the appeal, Elgee ordered that Anderson's jail sentence be placed on hold.

Anderson did not escape punishment. In addition to the jail sentence, Elgee gave him a five-year suspended prison sentence that can be reinstated if he fails at probation. Elgee further placed Anderson on probation for three years, fined him $1,500, suspended his driver's license for one year and ordered him to continue attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for at least eight months.

Anderson was charged with a felony because of two prior misdemeanor DUI convictions. He was convicted in Blaine County in 2005 and in Lincoln County in November 2010. Since the Lincoln County case was still pending when Anderson was arrested in Bellevue, that charge was originally filed as a misdemeanor.

The Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney's Office later moved to have the misdemeanor charged dismissed and then refiled the case as a felony following the Lincoln County conviction.

Nelson objected to the refiling, and filed a motion with Elgee accusing the prosecutor's office of "gamesmanship" that is not allowed under Idaho law.

Elgee ruled against the motion in May, finding that the refiling was allowable because circumstances had changed. Nelson has now appealed that ruling to the Idaho Supreme Court.

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Anderson served as Bellevue's mayor for five years before resigning in 2010 following his DUI arrest in Lincoln County.

In court Monday, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Fredback requested that Anderson either be placed in an Idaho Department of Correction alcohol treatment program or be sentenced to 60 days in jail. Fredback noted that Anderson had a .25 blood-alcohol level in the Bellevue arrest and a .28 blood-alcohol level in the Lincoln County case. The maximum legal blood-alcohol limit for driving in Idaho is .08.

"It's always a red flag when someone already has a DUI and gets another one before that one is over," Fredback said. "I think there has to be serious consequences. He had two high blood-alcohol levels within a year."

Fredback noted that Anderson is the primary caregiver for his invalid ex-wife, but said, "I have a hard time now accepting his excuse that he shouldn't go to jail."

Nelson said his client hasn't had any alcohol since his arrest in Bellevue, has voluntarily undergone treatment and is committed to changing his life.

"There is no reason why this case shouldn't garner the minimum 30 day sentence," Nelson said.

Anderson told the court that he is committed to not drinking.

"I have been making positive changes in the past year," he said. "I have finally found the strength to free myself of alcohol."

Elgee noted that the court received numerous letters in support of Anderson, attesting to changes they've seen in him in the past year.

Nelson gave a brief interview to the Idaho Mountain Express following the hearing,

"Most sentencing hearings for me are kind of an unpleasant situation," Nelson said. "But in the case of Jon Anderson, it was nice to talk over and over about positive changes, and obviously the court agreed."

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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