DUI charge vs. UA law dean dismissed
A DUI charge against the dean of the UA law school was dismissed by the court Friday morning.
Lawrence Ponoroff, who has headed the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona since 2009, was stopped for speeding just before 10 p.m. on May 6, and a sheriff's deputy observed signs of intoxication, an incident report said.
Blood test results, which were made available in August, showed Ponoroff had a blood-alcohol content of .047, said a Pima County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman. The legal limit is .08, but other, circumstantial, evidence can still result in a DUI conviction in Arizona.
But a driver with a BAC "under .05 is presumed not to be impaired under the law," said Ponoroff's attorney, Michael Piccarreta, interviewed Thursday.
"It's not against the law to have a glass of wine or two with dinner and then drive home," Piccarreta said.
Justice Court Judge Susan Bacal dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning the charge cannot be refiled. Ponoroff was fined $150 for speeding.
Piccarreta said Thursday that Ponoroff was reviewing the possibility of filing a lawsuit for wrongful arrest.
"A .047 is so low (that the arrest was) not impartial," Piccarreta said. "I don't think any responsible prosecutor would want to try this case."
A sheriff's deputy stopped Ponoroff after seeing his car speeding on North Campbell Avenue, a police report said. Ponoroff was driving 45 mph in a 35 mph zone, said Deputy Alvaro Arizpuru.
After Ponoroff made a westbound turn onto Ina Road, Arizpuru turned on his lights and siren to pull him over, the deputy said.
"I followed the vehicle to a distance of approximately three quarters of a mile with the emergency lights on before the vheicle slowed and came to a stop on the shoulder," the deputy wrote. Ponoroff stopped on a steep downgrade, he said.
Piccarreta said Ponoroff did not continue to drive that far. "That turned out not to be true," he said, claiming that there were other mistakes in the police report. He declined to discuss those claims Thursday.
"I don't want to get into the case before it might be tried," he said.
Speaking with Ponoroff after he was stopped, the deputy "immediately noticed his eyes were red, watery and bloodshot.... I also smelled a slight to moderate odor of alcoholic intoxicants coming out of his car."
Ponoroff was wearing his shirt inside out and had a "lethargic appearance," the deputy reported.
Ponoroff had troubling completing a horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the deputy said.
"I attempted it approximately seven separate times and Lawrence had difficulty following. It came to the point where Lawrence could not follow and I had to instruct him to physically hold his face by placing both his hands up against his cheeks."
The deputy observed four of six cues that indicated possible intoxication, he wrote.
Ponoroff told the deputy that he'd had two or three glasses of wine. A breathalyzer test indicated the presence of alcohol, and Ponoroff was placed under arrest. The incident reports do not state what level the breathalyzer indicated.
After Ponoroff declined to voluntarily submit to a blood test, deputies obtained a warrant for one and blood was drawn at the scene.
By refusing, Ponoroff faced the immediate suspension of his driver's license.
During questioning, Ponoroff said he'd had wine during a 2-hour potluck dinner at a private party on 3rd Street, the report said.
A deputy gave Ponoroff a ride home after deputies cited him for speeding and driving under the influence.
The blood test showed Ponoroff's blood-alcohol content to be .047, Deputy Dawn Barkman said after the result was received in August.
"A mistake was made" when Ponoroff was arrested, Piccarreta said.
Piccarreta pointed out that his client was arrested on a Friday night, just after Cinco de Mayo. Law enforcement agencies focus on picking up drunk drivers on holiday weekends, he said.
"They're out there making arrests" that might not stand up in court, Piccarreta said. "They jump to conclusions... (and) let the blood test sort it out later."
Ponoroff was announced as the head of the UA law school in April 2009, succeeding Toni Massaro.
Before coming to Tucson, he was the dean of the Tulane Law School in New Orleans.
Ponoroff is an expert on commercial law, specializing in bankruptcy.
His salary as dean is $315,000, said UA spokesman Johnny Cruz.