Kristin Ruth, a former Wake County, N.C., District Court judge, James Crouch, a Raleigh lawyer who handles a high volume of drunken-driving cases, and Elizabeth Daniel, a paralegal, have been arrested on charges related to their handling of dozens of DWI cases over the past four years, reports the Raleigh News & Observer. Their arrests have cast a striking chill over a courthouse that once teemed with defense lawyers eager to talk about cases and highlighted the prominent use of an obscure area of law.
In each case listed in the indictments, there was a judge's ruling with a “nunc pro tunc” – a Latin phrase meaning “now for then” that offers an opening to retroactively change the date of an order, judgment, or document filing. An analysis by the News & Observer shows that nunc pro tuncs have been used in at least 273 Wake County DWI cases during the past five years with numerous defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges agreeing to them. That's far more than anywhere else in the state. They have been used to give a break to an honor student, AIDS drug researcher, soldier, and many others. Sometimes the backdating wiped out penalties entirely in a DWI case, other times only partially. Sometimes the only benefit seemed to be the length of insurance rate increases tied to a DWI conviction.