Huff pleads guilty to DUI, says he's 'learned from this mistake'

County councilman was arrested in February; sentencing set for April 30

April 18, 2013|By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County Councilman Todd Huff pleaded guilty Thursday to driving under the influence, telling a judge that he's learned from the February incident and is in treatment for alcohol abuse.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Timothy Martin said he needed time to think about the case before sentencing Huff. As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors dropped charges of negligent driving and a headlight violation.

Huff, 44, told Martin that his arrest has been difficult for him as a person in the public eye. He said he wanted to apologize to his family, colleagues and constituents.

"I have learned from this mistake," the Lutherville Republican said. "I am continuing to work hard to gain their trust back."

Sentencing is scheduled April 30. Martin said he would consider whether Huff should be held to a higher standard because of his role as a public official.

The first-term councilman was in his county-issued Jeep Grand Cherokee about 2:30 a.m. Feb. 23 when an officer saw him driving without headlights on York Road in Towson.

Huff was stopped, arrested and charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol. Police said a test showed he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.20 percent. The legal limit in Maryland is 0.08 percent.

Martin said Huff appeared to have an exemplary work history. But he said several factors troubled him, including Huff's "very high" blood-alcohol level and comments he made to officers.

When Huff was stopped, police said, he pulled over into the parking lot of his family business, Brooks-Huff Tire & Auto Center, and asked, "Don't you know who I am? You stopped me on my own property."

That question displayed arrogance, Martin told Huff, and "that isn't pretty."

Huff told the court he also wanted to apologize to the officers who arrested him.

After police took Huff to the Towson precinct, he called county police Chief Jim Johnson. In court on Thursday, he said he did not call the chief to ask for favors but "to let him know that I was sorry" for what he had done.

Huff was already under arrest when he called the police chief, said his lawyer, John Grason Turnbull III.

The councilman, elected in 2010, relinquished the county-issued SUV, which cost $23,000.

Towson Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Nancy Hafford testified Thursday in support of Huff, calling him a tireless volunteer for neighborhood cleanups and the Towsontown Spring Festival.

"He gives hundreds and hundreds of hours every year for our community," Hafford said.

The judge also heard from a therapist treating Huff for alcohol abuse, who said the councilman arrives early for his appointments and has been open about working on his problems.

Turnbull told the judge he is seeking probation before judgment for Huff. He said the councilman had no prior DUI arrests and has much to offer to society.

But prosecutor Chris Smith said it would be more appropriate to allow the guilty finding to stand — which could lead authorities to revoke Huff's license. He cited Huff's guilty plea in a hit-and-run that led to injuries 18 years ago, for which he spent four days in jail and had an alcohol restriction placed on his license.

Smith works for the Harford County state's attorney. Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger requested an outside prosecutor to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. The County Council approves the budget for his office.

Turnbull said Huff has taken responsibility for what he did and that public interest has made the case more difficult for his client.

"If he were Todd Smith the ironworker from Dundalk, much ado would not be made about this case," the attorney said.

No matter the sentence Martin hands down, Turnbull said, the guilty plea means Huff will lose his commercial driver's license for a year.

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