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In re Inquiry Concerning A Judge

Supreme Court of North Carolina

May 5, 2017

IN RE: INQUIRY CONCERNING A JUDGE, NO. 15-222 DAVID Q. LABARRE, Respondent

         This matter is before the Court pursuant to N.C. G.S. §§ 7A-376 and -377 upon a recommendation by the Judicial Standards Commission entered 26 September 2016 that Respondent David Q. LaBarre, an Emergency Judge of the General Court of Justice, be censured for conduct in violation of Canons 1 and 2A of the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct, and for conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute in violation of N.C. G.S. § 7A-376. This matter was calendared for argument in the Supreme Court on 22 March 2017, but determined on the record without briefs or oral argument pursuant to Rule 30(f) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure and Rule 2(c) of the Rules for Supreme Court Review of Recommendations of the Judicial Standards Commission (2015).

          No counsel for Judicial Standards Commission or Respondent.

          ORDER

         The issue before this Court is whether Judge David Q. LaBarre (Respondent) should be censured for violations of Canons 1 and 2A of the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct and for conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute in violation of N.C. G.S. § 7A-376(b). Respondent has not challenged the findings of fact made by the Judicial Standards Commission (the Commission) or opposed the Commission's recommendation that he be censured by this Court.

         On 25 April 2016, the Commission Counsel filed a Statement of Charges against Respondent alleging that he had

engaged in conduct inappropriate to his judicial office when, on December 16, 2015, he drove his vehicle recklessly and while substantially impaired, putting at risk his own life and the lives of others [and that] Respondent's belligerent, offensive, and denigrating behavior towards the responding law enforcement officers and emergency personnel was outrageous and unbecoming of a judicial officer, bringing into question whether it is appropriate for the Respondent to continue to serve as an Emergency Judge.

         According to the allegations in the Statement of Charges, Respondent's driving while substantially impaired and belligerent behavior towards law enforcement officers and emergency personnel violated Canons 1 and 2A of the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct. As a result, Commission Counsel asserted that Respondent's actions "constitute[d] conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute, or otherwise constitutes grounds for disciplinary proceedings pursuant to Article 30 of Chapter 7A of the General Statutes of North Carolina."

         On 3 June 2016, Respondent filed an answer in which he admitted the factual allegations in the Statement of Charges and expressed remorse "for this uncharacteristic lapse in judgment." On 2 August 2016, Respondent and Commission Counsel filed a number of joint evidentiary, factual, and disciplinary stipulations as permitted by Commission Rule 22 that tended to support a decision to censure Respondent. Also, Respondent "voluntarily resigned his commission as an Emergency Judge, and agree[d] not to seek another commission in the future." On 12 August 2016, the Commission heard this matter.

         On 26 September 2016, the Commission filed a Recommendation of Judicial Discipline, in which it made the following findings of fact:

1. Respondent served honorably as a District Court Judge in Durham County from 1978 until 1994. He was appointed Chief District Court Judge on 3 January 1985 and served as Chief District Court Judge of Durham County from 3 January 1985 through 12 January 1990. Respondent was elected and served honorably as a Superior Court Judge in Durham County from 1994 until his retirement in 2002. Respondent was commissioned by the Governor as an Emergency Superior Court Judge and an Emergency District Court Judge in January 2003 and January 2004 respectively.
2. Shortly before 11:00 p.m. on 16 December 2015, the Durham Police Department received a call from a concerned driver reporting a suspected drunk driver. The caller provided the license plate number and indicated that the vehicle was driving northbound on Hillandale Road in Durham, North Carolina. The caller also reported that this vehicle had nearly hit four (4) other vehicles.
3. After checking the license plate number provided by the caller, Durham Police Officer J. A. Alcala determined that the vehicle was registered to Respondent, whose address was listed as near where the vehicle had been observed. In response, Officer Alcala drove to the registered address for the vehicle. Upon arriving at the apartment complex where the vehicle was registered, Officer Alcala observed a vehicle with the license plate number that matched the number reported to the police.
4. As Officer Alcala approached the vehicle, he noticed that the engine was still running and noted the only occupant, later identified as Respondent, was a male slumped over in his seat and who appeared to be sleeping at the wheel. The officer also noticed that the vehicle was still in drive with Respondent's foot on the brake. After knocking on the window and waking him, Respondent opened the vehicle's window, at which time Officer Alcala detected a strong odor of alcohol emanating from Respondent. Because of Respondent's level of impairment, another officer who arrived at the scene had to put the car in park as Respondent was unable to do so himself.
5. When Respondent finally exited his vehicle, he was unable to stand on his own without leaning against the vehicle, his speech was slurred, and he was unable to comprehend many of the officer's questions or follow basic instructions necessary for the officer to perform several field sobriety tests.
6. At approximately 11:25 p.m., at the officer's request, Respondent submitted to an initial portable breath test, which registered a positive result for the presence of alcohol. When asked to provide the requisite second sample, however, Respondent became belligerent, used offensive and vulgar expletives towards the officer, and refused to submit to a second test. Officer Alcala called Durham County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to the scene to evaluate Respondent for a possible medical emergency. While waiting for Durham County EMS to arrive, ...

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