VENTURA — Former California Energy Commission Chairman Charles R. Imbrecht, who resigned his post after nearly 15 years because of a drunk-driving arrest, pleaded guilty Monday to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to 40 days in County Jail.
Ventura County Superior Court Judge Charles Campbell ordered Imbrecht, who had two prior drunk-driving convictions, to begin serving his sentence May 1. Imbrecht did not appear in court.
In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to drop a related charge based on his blood-alcohol level at the time of the Dec. 7 arrest, along with another charge of marijuana possession.
Imbrecht's attorney, William Tomasi, argued during Monday's arraignment that his client's sentence should be reduced to 30 days because he enrolled in an Alcoholics Anonymous rehabilitation program.
"He should be rewarded for addressing the problem," Tomasi said. "I think 30 days is ample time to get the point across."
But Deputy Dist. Atty. John Cardoza disagreed, noting Imbrecht's history of drinking and driving. Imbrecht was convicted of the crime in Sacramento County in 1986 and in 1995 in Nevada County. He was still on probation for the second offense when he was arrested in Ventura County.
"I think it is important that he is treated like everybody else in this courtroom," Cardoza said. "Forty days is fully appropriate and fair."
Nonetheless, Imbrecht was given credit by Judge Campbell for having served two days in jail following his arrest and will be required to serve only 38 days. Imbrecht may also be eligible to participate in the county's work furlough program, where inmates are allowed to work regular jobs during the day while spending their evenings in a locked facility, officials said.
Imbrecht, a 47-year-old attorney and former Ventura County assemblyman, was arrested in December after sheriff's deputies observed his car weaving on a Ventura street and smelled alcohol on his breath. A small amount of marijuana was found in his pocket.
At the time of his arrest, Imbrecht's blood-alcohol level was 0.33%, four times the legal limit to drive, Cardoza said.
One day before being charged by prosecutors, Imbrecht resigned as chairman of the California Energy Commission, a job he was appointed to in 1983 by then-Gov. George Deukmejian. The commission is responsible for promoting energy conservation, licensing power plants and developing renewable energy resources.
Stephen Rhoads, executive director of the commission and a friend of Imbrecht's for nearly two decades, said he was saddened by recent events. He said Imbrecht was highly respected internationally for his work on the commission, specifically for promoting the development and use of alternative fuels.
"His job performance here was great," Rhoads said. "He has a very keen mind; he was very sharp. He had a deep interest in the Energy Commission and those of us here are deeply saddened to see him leave."
Imbrecht could not be reached for comment Monday.
Rhoads said he last talked to Imbrecht two weeks ago. He said the longtime Sacramento resident is now living in his hometown of Ventura with his wife and two children. Imbrecht's parents live in Ventura.
"I think he is doing OK," Rhoads said. "He indicated to me that he needs to focus and get better. And that's what he needs to be saying. He needs to come to grips with his health problems. Alcoholism is a very tough disease."
Rhoads said that Imbrecht still has the possibility of a bright future.
"He will have lots of opportunities because he is a brilliant individual," Rhoads said, "but not unless he takes care of his health problems."