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Published: Tuesday, 2/10/2004

Kest pleads guilty to reduced charge

Ray Kest, right, with his attorney, Sheldon Wittenberg, leaves Sylvania Municipal Court after having paid his fine. Ray Kest, right, with his attorney, Sheldon Wittenberg, leaves Sylvania Municipal Court after having paid his fine.

Lucas County Treasurer Ray Kest pleaded guilty yesterday to a reduced charge, and the original charge of drunken driving was dismissed in Sylvania Municipal Court.

Judge M. Scott Ramey accepted the agreement presented by the prosecutor s office and sentenced Mr. Kest to 30 days in jail, with 27 suspended, ordered a fine of $250 plus $57 in court costs, and suspended his right to drive for one year.

The court-imposed license suspension is retroactive to Aug. 17, when he lost his license after his arrest.

Mr. Kest pleaded guilty to second-offense reckless operation of a motor vehicle.

The remaining three days of the jail term are to be served at a program designed for drunken drivers, according to Judge Ramey s sentence. The judge also allowed Mr. Kest to retain driving privileges for work purposes.

During the hearing Mr. Kest said he understood the agreement. He declined comment after leaving the courtroom.

Michelle Wagner, a Sylvania prosecutor, said after the case concluded that the deal made in Mr. Kest s case was the same as would have been worked out for anyone in similar circumstances.

“I would never reduce a charge” because of someone s status, she said, and it would have been unethical to be harsher on him because of his position.

Mr. Kest was stopped after he failed to signal when changing lanes on I-475 in Springfield Township. She said the lane change wasn t reckless and Mr. Kest pulled over when a trooper from the Ohio State Highway Patrol signaled him to stop.

Ms. Wagner said that there was no accident involved, that Mr. Kest s speech wasn t slurred on videotape taken at the time, and that a field breath showed a blood-alcohol content of .083 percent.

Those tests can t be used in court, but Mr. Kest s reading was within a generally accepted tolerance level that could be construed to indicate his blood-alcohol level was not above the .08 percent which in Ohio defines drunken driving.

He declined to take a standard Breathalyzer test after his arrest.

Ms. Wagner said the second-offense reckless operation charge to which Mr. Kest pleaded is a “legal fiction, which allows the judge sufficient latitude in sentencing.

A first offense reckless operation results in a fine, but a second-offense, can bring a jail sentence, she said.

The charge did not stem from a 1985 drunken driving conviction Mr. Kest has from Sylvania Municipal Court.

The reduced charge puts four points on his driver s license as opposed to six points for drunken driving. If a driver reaches a total of 12 points for various convictions, a license is suspended.

Ms. Wagner said the $250 fine is about $50 less than the usual $300 for drunken driving. Last year, 900 drunken driving cases were filed in the Sylvania court and 271, about 30 percent, were reduced, according to court records.

Mr. Kest s arrest in a county car led to criticism of his and other officials using county vehicles for personal transportation. The issue caused the county to change how employees use county vehicles.

The county commissioners have suggested they may have to revamp the policy on county cell phones after it recently came to light that Mr. Kest listed his county telephone number on a letterhead soliciting business for his mortgage brokerage business.

Special Prosecutor Mark Mulligan is investigating Mr. Kest s use of $14,683 of taxpayer money for expenses related to his doctoral studies at Cleveland State University and related expenses. He also was an instructor at that university, but his contract was not renewed.

Mr. Mulligan, of Ottawa County, said he hopes to have a report on those expenditures finished by mid-March.

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