Day in court won’t claim council seat

Worst-case scenario: misdemeanor conviction

For all the speculation surrounding Chico Councilwoman Mary Flynn’s arrest on charges of impaired driving, one thing is now certain: Conviction would bring legal consequences but not cost her the rest of her first term on the council.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey has charged Flynn with a single count of driving under the influence of prescription medication, which is a misdemeanor. The city charter specifies that a councilmember may be removed from office for a crime of moral turpitude. City Attorney Lori Barker researched the matter and determined a felony—not a misdemeanor—would rise to that level.

Mayor Andy Holcombe, a practicing attorney, conferred with Barker and concurs with her assessment. “Even if there was a conviction, would it affect her eligibility? No,” he said.

So … shut the book on this one?

“I don’t think it’s a closed chapter,” Holcombe said. “I don’t think it’s a chapter that ever should have been opened and read as much as it has, but that said, I still believe it will be misread and misinterpreted. Until it’s disposed of [in court], it still will be a topic of perhaps community discussion and definitely interest to the press—newspapers, TV and radio.”

The next step in the legal process is Flynn’s first arraignment Friday (Aug. 22), at which her presence is not required. Her attorney, Denny Latimer, will not be present either; he said an associate will ask for a continuance of at least a week. That’s a normal request—expected by Ramsey—so Latimer has the opportunity to assess the toxicology report (which the DA’s office hadn’t forwarded by Tuesday afternoon) before advising his client on entering her plea.

That report is crucial, because it’s the basis of Ramsey’s decision to prosecute. He stated Friday (Aug. 15) in a news release announcing the charge that “forensic testing of Flynn’s blood revealed low levels of over-the-counter sleep medication and cough medication. Low levels of other prescription medication were also found.” By law, the DA said, he couldn’t release specifics, and Latimer did not want to make any conclusions until reviewing the report.

Flynn, who declined to comment after her arrest, did not break the silence after the latest development. She missed Tuesday night’s council meeting for a work retreat but was in her seat for the Aug. 5 meeting.

While the arrest of a sitting public official is, in Ramsey’s words, “rare but not unusual” in Butte County, it’s unusual enough that the particulars of Flynn’s case have received public airing and scrutiny.

On July 19—a Friday evening—Chico police responded to a call from the strip mall at the corner of Forest Avenue and Humboldt Road. According to Ramsey and Police Chief Bruce Hagerty, they found Flynn behind the wheel of her car with the bumper pushed against the wall of the Great Harvest Bread Co.

Officers Billy Aldridge and Jeremy Struthers administered a field sobriety test, took Flynn into custody and brought her to Enloe Medical Center to have her blood drawn for testing. Once booked, she sat with Hagerty in his office before being released.

The breaking story in The Enterprise-Record, on the front page three days after the arrest, cited Hagerty indicating alcohol was possibly involved, as well as medication. If true, this would have been Flynn’s second arrest for drunken driving—as she disclosed during her campaign in 2006, she had a DUI conviction in 1990. The police chief and the paper corrected themselves the next day, and the toxicology report did not bear out that claim.

Instead, the testing showed multiple medicines, none in a high enough quantity to trigger a DUI individually but together, Ramsey said by phone Tuesday morning, creating “an additive effect.” The DA came to that conclusion in consultation with experts, including a toxicologist, and a handbook.

“The drugs she was taking were consistent with what civilian and police witnesses saw,” he said. “Even though the levels were on the low end, it was the combination and the additive effect of the various drugs that contributed to the confused and dazed behavior that was observed.” (Latimer said his investigation following the arrest uncovered witnesses who observed otherwise.)

Legally speaking, Flynn is answering a first-offense DUI charge “even though she had one in 1990—after 10 years, those wash out and are not considered a prior DUI,” Ramsey explained. If convicted of the misdemeanor, she faces up to 48 hours in county jail, a $1,500 fine, weekend DUI traffic school, a four-month suspension of her driver’s license and three years’ probation.

Though alcohol is a more common cause for DUI, Ramsey said he’s seeing “more and more” cases involving medication. “When you get down to it,” he continued, “whether you’re impaired by alcohol, illicit substances or legal substances, the danger is still the same.”