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NEW YORK — As a social guideline, yes, there’s no excuse for drunken driving. But a look at recent appellate rulings shows there are actually plenty of excuses. As an Ohio panel ruled in March, trial judges had better hear them out. (On March 19, an Ohio appellate panel reversed a drunken driving conviction because — after the defendant pleaded no contest — the judge found him guilty without hearing an explanation.) In New Jersey, Joseph Romano was pulled over undeniably drunk, visibly frightened and covered in blood. He’d been waiting at a restaurant for a ride home when, he said, three men started beating him and threatening to kill him. He broke away and escaped in his car, getting only several hundred yards before a police car stopped him for not having his headlights on. In North Carolina, Carlos Pineda drove through a red light, smelled of alcohol, had three cans of Bud Light visible in the car and flunked the field sobriety test. However, as the arresting officer noted in his report, the defendant did not speak English. His attorney’s argument that he couldn’t understand the instructions, including those for blowing into the breathalyzer, carried the day. And in Ohio, James Jarrell went to a party at a campground, started drinking at 3 p.m. and planned to sleep there overnight. But his brother cut his knee — it took 10 stitches to repair it — and no one would drive him to the emergency room. There was a debate about whether the pay phones were working. Jarrell was arrested in the hospital parking lot. Among those offering the year’s unsuccessful defenses: Another Ohio man who explained that he did poorly on the field sobriety tests because he was wearing cowboy boots and a Delaware man who said he left his car behind after a three-car crash, ran home and was so upset he got drunk before officers arrived. NO HOLDS BARRED When stuntwoman Rhonda Miller called a press conference just before the California election to accuse then-candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger of groping her, the Schwarzenegger camp responded with an ad hominem extravaganza. An e-mail message from campaign spokesman Sean Walsh told reporters that Miller’s attorney, Gloria Allred, was a Democratic partisan who donated to Sen. Dianne Feinstein. The message directed the press to court records showing that a Rhonda Miller was a prostitute with a long rap sheet. Only it turned out to be another Rhonda Miller. Now the e-mail is an attachment to the stuntwoman’s libel suit against the governor and Walsh. Schwarzenegger’s attorney, Martin Singer, said the suit is without merit. The governor says it’s time to move on. Walsh has no comment. No one on the defense seems to think it’d be helpful to point out that Miller’s libel attorney, Paul Hoffmann, has pretty fair partisan credentials himself, having worked for the American Civil Liberties Union. U.S. WON’T STRING ALONG It’s only fair, after the fun we’ve had with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for registering sticks and simulated ice huts, to note that the government has refused to allow a trademark for red string. The Kabbalah Centre International, which is based in Los Angeles, sought the mark in February. The centre, an outgrowth of a school of mystical Jewish thought dating from the Middle Ages, has been popular with the rich and famous. Elton John and Madonna are among those spotted wearing the centre’s red string bracelets. According to the centre’s online store, the string fends off negativity. But the government’s examining attorney, Henry Zak, turned down the application on the ground that the centre needs either a name for the product or a description of its intended uses. Gail Diane Cox is a reporter for The National Law Journal , a Recorder affiliate based in New York.

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