Clayton County Commission Vice-Chairman Wole Ralph asked a Fulton County State Court judge for a jury trial this week, after he pleaded “not guilty” in a case involving his February 2011 DUI arrest in Atlanta.
Ralph is facing five criminal charges, including driving under the influence-less safe, reckless driving, failure to maintain a lane, and two counts of obstructing an officer. The charges stem from an incident in which Atlanta police observed him allegedly swerving from side to side on Metropolitan Parkway last year.
A police report from the incident states he is also alleged to have had an “overwhelming odor of alcohol” on his breath while driving his car at the time of his arrest.
“[Ralph] did fail to drive said vehicle as nearly as practicable within a single lane,” one of the accusations against the commissioner states.
The commissioner’s attorney, James K. “Skip” Sullivan, filed his client’s plea — and request for a trial — late Tuesday, causing him to waive an arraignment hearing that had been scheduled to take place on Wednesday morning. It was not immediately clear as to when his court date might be.
Sullivan could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, and Fulton County Solicitor General Carmen D. Smith declined to comment about the case.
A jury trial could drag on for months, which means the case may not be resolved until just before, or even after the July 31 general primary elections. Ralph’s seat is up for re-election this year.
Officials from the Fulton County Solicitor’s Office filed their accusations against Ralph in state court on Jan. 31. It did not get to the arraignment step, which is usually early in the court process, until nearly 2 1/2 months later.
A police report from Ralph’s arrest alleges that he pulled out of the parking lot of a night club called Creme in the early morning hours of Feb. 19, 2011, and began swerving across multiple lanes of traffic. At one point, Ralph was in was driving on the median on Metropolitan Parkway, and sparks were reportedly flying from the car, police wrote in their report.
After police got him to stop, he allegedly argued and got into a scuffle with officers, and even claimed to be a “police commissioner,” according to the report. The document also states the commission vice-chairman refused to take a breathalyzer test, or a field sobriety test.
The latest developments represent the latest delays in a case that has so far dragged on for 14 months without going to trial. It was initially being handled in Atlanta Municipal Court, and it was close to being settled through a plea agreement in October. But it was transferred to Fulton County State Court at that time after reporters questioned court officials about Ralph’s relationship with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
Ralph and another Clayton County official attended an Air Cargo Convention in Amsterdam, at the invitation of Reed in 2010. The mayor also reportedly planned to host a fundraiser for Ralph’s re-election campaign last summer, but it was later postponed.
Had the case stayed in Atlanta Municipal Court, the plea deal Ralph agreed to would have stayed in place, and he only would have had to plead guilty to the reckless driving charge.
Driving Under the Influence carries a sentence that includes a $300, to $600 fine for first-time offenders, as well as mandatory drug and alcohol risk classes, 40 hours of community service (or a year in jail) and a mandatory 120-day suspension of his license, under Georgia law. The law states the other charges carries sentences of up to $1,000 in fines, or 12 months in jail.