NAPANEE, Ont. - A Northumberland County assistant Crown attorney is trying to keep her job after pleading guilty earlier this month to having more than double the legal limit of alcohol in her blood while driving.
Police first charged Nancy Rae with impaired, over 80, and obstructing a police officer on Nov. 26. On her second court appearance, she pleaded guilty to having more than 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood while behind the wheel.
She blew 190 twice, but authorities dropped the other charges in light of her guilty plea.
Rae received a one-year driving prohibition, as agreed upon by an out-of-town Crown, and accepted by the presiding judge, who also fined her $1,800.
Rae stood alone when the agreed statement of facts was read in court.
Court heard personal and professional stresses were aggravating her drinking problem when she got behind the wheel of her GMC Suburban while attending a hockey tournament for one of her four children in Napanee, a small town about 200 kilometres east of Toronto.
She was driving along Highway 2 just west of Napanee when Rae’s large vehicle that was crossing over the centre line numerous times forced oncoming motorists off the road at about 4 p.m. They called 911 to report Rae and described her as an “erratic” driver.
A police officer from the Ontario Provincial Police detachment in Napanee who caught up to Rae observed her driving in a similar fashion.
After stopping the Suburban near Unger Island Road, the officer detected a strong smell of alcohol on Rae’s breath. Rae, who had blood-stained eyes, said she hadn’t been drinking, according to the agreed statement of facts.
The officer also noticed a blue blanket concealing a container of wine on the floor of the Suburban.
In the back seat sat one of her children, who was described in court as a small child.
Police ordered Rae out of the vehicle, but she refused. She had to be forcibly removed and was verbally “belligerent” to the officer. She had to be restrained.
Police, who took Rae to the Napanee OPP station, administered a breathalyzer that recorded her alcohol readings. She apologized to police for being abusive upon her release.
Jennifer MacLellan, a Crown attorney from Nova Scotia, noted she came to prosecute the case to ensure Rae didn’t receive any special treatment.
Justice Geoffrey Griffin of the Ontario Court of Justice mused that if Rae had injured anyone, she would likely have gone to the penitentiary. “One would have thought she would have cared about her child,” said Griffin.
Rae declined to take the opportunity to address the court. The lawyer of more than 20 years is now trying to get back into the courtroom for a different reason. She wants to keep her job.
Oshawa, Ont., lawyer Bernie O’Brien, who represented Rae, said outside the court that her employment remains in question. He tells Law Times that nothing has changed since then and that the matter is in the hands of the Ministry of the Attorney General.
“Rae is currently on leave but remains an employee of the ministry,” ministry spokesman Brendan Crawley said in an e-mail. “As human resources matters are confidential, I cannot comment further.”
Rae, who went on medical leave after her arrest, appears to have the support of her boss, Crown attorney David Thompson. He was in the courtroom when Rae pleaded guilty. As he walked out with her following the court proceedings, he at one point tried to protect her by blocking a photographer’s view with his briefcase.
He declined to comment when reached last week. But in a letter he wrote to the court, he offered a glimpse into Rae’s state of mind throughout the ordeal. “I know that she is well aware that she made a mistake,” he wrote. “Nancy indicated a desire, early on, to accept responsibility for her wrongdoing by entering a guilty plea at a very early stage of these proceedings.”
Thompson noted Rae was dealing with personal and professional issues. She had successfully prosecuted a “difficult” homicide investigation in the fall against Marc Vickers, who was convicted of first-degree murder in the 2008 death of Michelle Barnoski in Warkworth, Ont.
That conviction came just a few days before her own arrest.
Rae’s father had also passed away after a long illness in May 2010.
“She has taken steps to address these stresses,” said Thompson. “She has sought and received professional assistance.”
O’Brien said Rae hasn’t drank since her arrest. The help she has been receiving is through counselling and attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
O’Brien described her mental state at the time as a perfect storm of stress. “She’s had a tough go, a very tough go,” he said outside court. “She’s owned up to the responsibility.”
Defence lawyers in the Northumberland area say Rae’s punishment was typical of similar cases but, knowing her personally, they didn’t want to comment on the record.
Ken Byers, a lawyer in St. Catharines, Ont., says that without knowing the details of Rae’s case, the facts always determine the sentence. “The more severe the facts, the more severe the penalty,” he said.
Crawley, meanwhile, defended the outcome of the case in his e-mail. “The decisions in this case were made by the independent prosecutor. A joint position on sentencing was presented to the judge. As in all cases, it is for the judge to accept or reject the submission.”
Crawley noted it’s common for an independent prosecutor to handle cases like Rae’s. “This is done to ensure independence and avoid any real or perceived conflict.”
Rae had no previous criminal record. She had been charged with careless driving, a Highway Traffic Act offence, about a month earlier.