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Paris Hilton judge has Sutherland's case

It could lead to another showdown between the jurist and the sheriff over sentencing rights.

September 29, 2007|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

Kiefer Sutherland, as agent Jack Bauer on Fox TV's "24," has seen some pretty tough nemeses.

But when city prosecutors Friday charged the actor with two counts of drunk driving and accused him of violating parole in a prior DUI case, they thrust him into the courtroom of the judge who sent Paris Hilton to jail and, when the sheriff let her out early, sent her, sobbing, right back.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer, amid the Hilton circus, declared that he didn't "care to be DUI judge to the stars."

But when Sutherland is arraigned Oct. 16, his case may become another showdown between the judge and Sheriff Lee Baca. Like Hilton, Sutherland is accused of violating his DUI probation. He faces a potential 18 months in jail.

When Baca released Hilton because of an undisclosed medical reason after she served three days of her 45-day sentence, Sauer sent her back.

For years, judges have watched, frustrated, as the sheriff has slashed sentences to alleviate jail overcrowding

"The only strategy is really throw yourself on the mercy of the judge. This is not a judge who is going to go easy on a celebrity," Loyola law professor Laurie Levinson, a former prosecutor, said of Sutherland's case.

"His attorney could seek to remove the judge [from the case]. But if you shoot the king and miss, there will be consequences."

Sutherland, 40, was charged with driving a vehicle under the influence and having a blood alcohol level above the 0.08% state legal limit after his arrest early Tuesday in Hollywood.

City attorney's spokesman Nick Velasquez said prosecutors also were seeking to revoke Sutherland's probation from a 2004 arrest.

The actor faces up to a year in jail if convicted on the new charges and six months for any probation violation.

Because of the prior conviction, Velasquez said, if convicted, "Mr. Sutherland must serve a minimum of 96 hours in jail."

Sutherland's attorney, Blair Berk, would not comment.

The actor has been convicted of or pleaded no contest to alcohol-related charges three times locally since 1989.

Paul Burglin, a DUI defense attorney and one of the authors of the book "California Drunk Driving Law," said Sutherland may be far better off than Hilton was because the public perception of the heiress was that "she was flouting the orders of the court" by driving without a license.

Still, he said, Sutherland may get a 30- to 60-day sentence. Burglin said the jail time could be served in home detention or at a treatment facility.

But Burglin said a judge can exclude a defendant from such alternatives. This was the case with Hilton's sentence.

If there are no technical problems with the prosecution's case, Burglin said, Sutherland's lawyer may consider getting him to enroll him in a residential treatment program.

He said the judge should take into account Sutherland's prior performance on probation, including meeting such requirements as attending classes.

According to police, Sutherland was pulled over about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday near La Cienega and Beverly boulevards after making an illegal U-turn.

He was arrested after failing a breath analysis, allegedly registering over the legal blood-alcohol limit.

Court records show Sutherland was convicted of alcohol-related reckless driving in 1989 and 1993.

In November 2004, he pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of driving under the influence and was sentenced to 60 months of probation and 50 hours of community service and ordered to attend an alcohol treatment program.

He won a best actor Emmy last year for his work in "24," which is scheduled to return to the Fox lineup in January.

Sutherland, who was raised in Canada, received the Award of Excellence on Tuesday from the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists, an actors union, for his contribution to fellow Canadian performers and the entertainment industry.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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