Superior Court Judge Howard Simms investigated for DUI after stop at roadblock

awomack@macon.comSeptember 25, 2012 

Bibb County Superior Court Judge Howard Simms is under suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol for the second time in a little more than two years.

The Bibb County Sheriff’s Office launched an internal investigation Tuesday morning following a Saturday night roadblock on Lamar Road in west Bibb County where Simms was stopped. The roadblock was a part of the multi-agency Rolling Thunder traffic operation Friday and Saturday.

Chief Deputy David Davis said the investigation seeks to determine whether Simms was under the influence of alcohol and the circumstances surrounding his interaction with Bibb County deputies.

So far, Davis said, information gathered in the investigation suggests Simms took an alcohol breath test and registered 0.083. The legal limit in Georgia is 0.08. As part of the investigation, deputies are seeking to verify Simms’ breath test result, he said.

Generally, deputies administer field sobriety tests only if they smell alcohol, see a container of alcohol after stopping a vehicle or if the driver shows signs of impairment, Davis said.

“For them to have administered any kind of roadside field sobriety test, the officer who stopped him and had first contact with him must have seen something or smelled something that made him think alcohol could have been in use,” Davis said.

It’s unclear whether deputies gave Simms any field sobriety tests -- physical and mental tasks to determine a person’s impairment -- beyond a breath test, he said.

Typically, written records aren’t kept for field sobriety tests if a driver isn’t charged with a crime, Davis said.

If the investigation confirms Simms registered 0.083 on the breath test, the sheriff’s office will confer with the Bibb County solicitor to determine whether an arrest warrant will be issued, Davis said.

At least two deputies were involved in the encounter with Simms, possibly more, Davis said. The sheriff’s office also is seeking to determine if deputies violated any departmental policies. The deputies involved in Simms’ stop are still on the job.

Simms, a former district attorney, issued a statement early Tuesday afternoon saying he was not charged with a crime after stopping at the roadblock and that he returned home “under his own power.”

He cleared his court calendar Tuesday to make arrangements to enter an inpatient alcohol addiction treatment facility, according to the statement.

The judge, who is elected by voters from Bibb, Crawford and Peach counties, had been scheduled to preside over jury selection in an aggravated assault case in Bibb County Superior Court.

The prosecutor and defense attorney for the aggravated assault case said they received word Tuesday morning that Simms had postponed the case until the next trial term.

Chief Judge S. Phillip Brown and Judge Tillman “Tripp” Self III will hear Simms’ cases next week, according to Brown’s office. It’s unclear how long Simms may be away from the bench, if he will return or how his caseload will be handled in the meantime.

Simms has reported to the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission information regarding Saturday night’s events and his decision to enter a treatment facility, according to his statement.

The JQC is the state agency that investigates judges’ behavior and issues punishment when warranted. Attempts to contact the JQC were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Simms was elected judge in 2010 just months after he received a ride from a Macon police officer who smelled alcohol in a government car Simms was driving. The officer didn’t administer a field sobriety test or a Breathalyzer test for alcohol during that June 3, 2010, traffic stop.

Simms wasn’t arrested, and the officer drove Simms’ car to Freedom Park where his child was playing baseball.

In his Tuesday statement, Simms apologized to his family, friends and supporters for hurt and embarrassment he has caused.

“Drinking and driving is a serious issue and it is not acceptable conduct for anyone, much less a Superior Court judge,” he said. “Alcohol addiction is something that I have struggled with for many years and have tried to deal with on my own, but I have come to the realization that I need professional help.”

Simms said he enjoys being a judge and thinks he’s done a good job.

“I want to assure the public that my problems deal with conduct off the bench and that it is not and never has been an issue when I was on the bench,” he said. “I look forward to getting healthy and returning to doing what I love best, which is being a judge.”

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.

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