ORTING - Elected state schools chief Randy Dorn pleaded guilty Friday to one count of driving under the influence in Orting Municipal Court, saying he wanted to take responsibility for his actions and move forward.
“For me, as a career educator, this is a teachable moment,” Dorn said in court. “I am going to continue to seek out opportunities to help young people learn from my mistake. I owe that to the people of this great state.”
The Eatonville resident was sentenced to serve one day in jail and ordered to surrender his drivers license for 90 days.
Dorn also received a sentence of five years’ probation, during which time he must not commit any crimes or drive with a blood-alcohol content above the legal limit.
If he violates the terms of his probation, he could be sentenced to an additional 364 days of jail time – the part of his sentence that was suspended Friday.
Dorn, 56, said his DUI conviction will not affect his work as Washington’s superintendent of public instruction.
He said that as part of his legal proceedings, he took an assessment that showed he doesn’t have an alcohol dependency problem.
“Alcohol is not a problem in my life,” Dorn said. “The truth be known, I’m really a Diet Coke guy.”
The first-term superintendent was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence March 21 in Orting. He was charged with a DUI three days later.
An Orting police officer pulled Dorn over for speeding and having a tail light out on his 2006 Toyota Prius about 1:15 a.m., according to a police report.
The officer reported that Dorn smelled of alcohol during the traffic stop, stumbled and failed field sobriety tests. A breath test at the Orting police station about 3 a.m. found his blood-alcohol content to be 0.11. The legal limit in Washington is 0.08.
Dorn issued two statements last week after The News Tribune got a tip and started inquiring. In the first statement, he acknowledged the public had a right to know about his conduct but said he wouldn’t discuss it at that time.
In the second statement two days later, Dorn said he was pulled over while returning home from the annual crab feed and dance at the Swiss Sportsman Club Park in Bonney Lake.
He had attended the event with his wife and sons, he said, and drank beer with dinner.
As part of his guilty plea, Dorn also must attend a DUI victim impact panel and take alcohol and drug education classes. Additionally, the court fined him $866, not including court and jail fees.
After his drivers license is restored, he will have an interlock device on his car for a time to prevent it from starting if alcohol is detected on his breath, said Aaron Walls, Orting city prosecutor.
Walls said he recommended the minimum sentence because Dorn has no criminal history and no previous drunken-driving charges.
Municipal Court Judge John F. Curry agreed with the sentencing recommendation.
“Clearly this is a lapse in judgment, that’s what it was,” Curry said. “The reality is thousands of people in Washington have this lapse of judgment every year.”
Most people wouldn’t have gone through the public scrutiny that Dorn went through, Curry added.
“Not everyone steps up and becomes accountable at this time,” Curry told Dorn. “I’m glad you have learned from it.”
Dorn was elected in 2008 to a four-year term leading Washington’s K-12 school system, unseating three-term incumbent Terry Bergeson.
Dorn’s attorney, Thomas Ellington, said that he thought there was a 90 percent chance Dorn could have had his DUI charge amended to the lesser charge of negligent driving had he pleaded not guilty.
But Dorn said he didn’t want to deny what he had done, especially given the example he’s trying to set for students.
“I have to look those kids in the eyes and say, ‘Are you being responsible for your actions?’” Dorn said outside the courtroom Friday. “I want to say, ‘If you make a mistake, pick yourself up.’”
“I’m standing up,” he said.
Dorn is scheduled to report to jail Tuesday.
Melissa Santos: 253-552-7058