A Missoula city councilwoman arrested last week for driving under the influence of alcohol pleaded guilty Monday to a misdemeanor charge of DUI per se, then apologized for her actions during a Missoula City Council meeting.
"I made a human error in judgment," Pam Walzer, 54, said during the evening council meeting. "I was wrong and fully accept the responsibilities and consequences. This is my first DUI."
Walzer read from a prepared statement at the meeting. She earlier appeared in Missoula Municipal Court before Judge Don Louden for the change-of-plea hearing. She pleaded guilty to per se drunken driving, whereby a defendant admits to driving with a blood alcohol content greater than 0.08 - which is against the law - but does not admit to driving while intoxicated.
At the council meeting, Walzer also turned the tables on those who called for her resignation. She said she regrets her flawed judgment, but she hopes to continue serving on the council in the future if that is the will of voters in Ward 2.
"I do not believe my lapse in judgment affects my ability to serve my constituents," Walzer said. She went on. "I intend to continue my position on City Council."
According to attorneys, Walzer decided to plead guilty to the amended charge after test results from a blood draw showed her blood alcohol content was 0.08 at the time of her arrest. In Montana, a driver with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher is considered intoxicated and cannot legally operate a motor vehicle.
Walzer was given a six-month suspended jail sentence, a $400 fine and a $101 surcharge. She also must complete the mandatory ACT program and will receive a provisional driver's license for the duration of her six-month sentence, said attorney Katie Olson, who represented Walzer during Monday's change-of-plea hearing.
"It was really a pretty standard hearing. I think she received the same treatment as anyone else," Olson said of the sentence. "DUI sentences are so standard that there really isn't a lot of wiggle room. The only thing unique about this was that we had the results from the blood draw, and submitted those to the court."
According to a DUI ticket filed in Municipal Court, a city police officer stopped Walzer at 1:27 a.m. last Wednesday near the intersection of Main and Orange streets. She failed to signal a right-hand turn, then turned into the far lane on Orange Street, rather than the inside lane. She agreed to a breath test, according to the ticket, as well as a blood draw.
Walzer was charged with misdemeanor DUI, her first offense, and was booked at the Missoula County Detention Facility shortly after 2 a.m. She was released within the hour after posting $500 bail, according to the jail roster, and pleaded not guilty later that morning.
The councilwoman's arrest comes at a time when Montana's DUI laws are being scrutinized at state and local levels, with lawmakers looking at ways to strengthen current statutes.
Walzer, who said she was "deeply sorry" for her mistake, is a member of the council's Public Safety and Health Committee. During Monday's meeting, Councilman Jason Wiener said he values Walzer's expertise on the committee, especially when it comes to waste management.
The committee will hold a hearing on March 22 to consider a proposed ordinance that would impose a $300 fine on suspected drunken drivers who refuse a breath test.
Had Walzer refused a breath test, her license would have been automatically suspended for six months and she would not have been eligible for the probationary license.
Olson said she had not seen the results of the breath test, but understood that it showed a slightly higher BAC of 0.09.
Olson said blood tests are, as a rule, more reliable than breath tests.