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Allegheny County judge charged with drunken driving

Megan Guza
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Judge Christine A. Ward of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas

An Allegheny County judge grabbed onto a state trooper’s arm to keep from falling after she had been stopped for suspected drunken driving during the holiday weekend, police wrote in an arrest affidavit.

State Trooper Daniel Beatty of the Kittanning barracks wrote that when he asked Common Pleas Judge Christine Ann Ward, 58, of Shadyside if she’d had anything to drink, she replied, “I did — too much.”

When he attempted to perform a field sobriety test, Ward fell over.

“As a result, I stopped the tests for fear anything further would be a danger to her safety,” Beatty wrote in the affidavit of probable cause.

Ward was charged with driving under the influence, police and court records show.

According to the affidavit of probable cause, Ward was driving south on Route 28 in a black Mercedes Benz on Sunday afternoon. An off-duty trooper — after seeing the judge driving erratically on Route 28 — stopped her at a BP station on Fox Chapel Road in O’Hara. The off-duty trooper called in the incident. Beatty arrived just after 5:30 p.m. and found the judge reeking of alcohol, staggering and “incoherent to the situation,” according to the affidavit.

After discontinuing the field sobriety tests because the judge had fallen to the ground, Beatty placed her under arrest and took her to UPMC St. Margaret, where he said she refused three times to submit to a blood test. Refusing the test can result in an automatic one-year driver’s license suspension.

Ward also faces numerous moving violations, including careless driving.

Ward, a civil judge, was appointed by then-Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, in February 2003; she was twice re-elected, and her current term ends in 2023. She sits in the court’s Commerce and Complex Litigation Center in the Civil Division. Common pleas court judges are paid $176,572 a year.

According to Ward’s biography from the University of Pittsburgh, where she teaches, she serves on the statewide Judicial Ethics Committee for the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Court Judges, where she is chair of the Civil Judges’ Section.

Ward was on the bench Wednesday hearing testimony in the disputed sale of DRV Inc., a Wilkinsburg-based motor and automation company, after its previous owner’s death.

She declined multiple requests to comment.

Allegheny County President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning said Ward notified him of the incident on Tuesday, and he in turn notified the state Supreme Court. As of Wednesday, however, he said he still hadn’t seen the official complaint with the details of the traffic stop.

“Judge Ward is an extremely talented and able judge serving in the Civil Division of our Court and in the Commerce Court handling complex litigation,” Manning said. “Any charges against her will receive the same fair and impartial treatment as every other case in our criminal justice system.”

Ward has no criminal record. Court records show she paid $128.50 in fines and fees for failing to stop at a traffic signal in Pittsburgh in October. Ward’s preliminary hearing in the DUI case is scheduled for Aug. 10 before Magisterial District Judge Elissa M. Lang.

In December 2011, Common Pleas Judge Randal Todd was arrested when he failed a field sobriety test given by Mt. Lebanon police after an officer saw him back into another vehicle.

Todd completed the accelerated rehabilitative disposition program for first-time offenders, clearing his record. While he was completing the program, he took a temporary reassignment from hearing criminal cases — particularly DUIs — to avoid any conflict of interest.

Manning said such a reassignment would not be necessary for Ward, since she’s assigned to the civil division hearing commercial litigation.

Staff writers Matthew Santoni and Tawnya Panizzi contributed. Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at [email protected] or 412-380-8519.

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