Now-retired judge threatened police during DWI arrest

Experts:?Inappropriate behavior during arrest could prompt disciplinary action

By Catherine Martin
BridgeTower Media Newswires

ST. LOUIS, MO — Now-retired St. Louis County Associate Circuit Judge Lawrence J. Permuter, who received probation on a DWI charge in municipal court last month, repeatedly threatened police officers and acted inappropriately during his arrest, according to a recently released police report.

Getting a DWI doesn’t necessarily mean a lawyer will face any disciplinary action related to their law license, but if there are aggravating factors at play, like past charges or inappropriate behavior during an arrest, it may prompt discipline, experts say.

“Certainty anything like that would additionally be a factor,” said Sara Rittman, a former state supreme court Legal Ethics Counsel who now operates a private practice.

Rittman did not comment specifically on Permuter’s case, but spoke generally about how threatening a police officer may affect an attorney’s chances of facing discipline from a DWI arrest.
“That’s going to take you out of just the category of what would normally happen if an attorney gets a DWI,” she said.

Neither Permuter nor his attorney could be reached for comment.

Permuter was cited following an accident on New Year’s Eve afternoon in which he hit a concrete wall on Highway 40/Interstate 64 in Richmond Heights.

According to an incident report from the Richmond Heights police, a witness saw his car drive across at least one lane of traffic and hit a concrete wall before trying to get back on the highway and hitting the wall again.

When officers arrived, they found Permuter lying across the front seat of his vehicle, where both airbags had deployed, with his eyes closed and “apparently sleeping.” He could not tell them why he had collided with the concrete wall.

Permuter, who was still on the bench at the time of the incident, then tried to exit his vehicle while an officer repeatedly told him to stay in the car. When an officer told him an ambulance was on the way, Permuter became belligerent and said he was “fine to walk home,” according to the police report.

The officer told Permuter he would not allow him to walk home from the highway, and Permuter began to swear at and threaten the officer, asking “Who’s gonna stop me, YOU?!” He then informed the officer that he is trained in martial arts such as Muay Thai and Krav Maga and that no one should mess with him, according to the report.

Missouri Lawyers Weekly ran a feature story about Permuter’s boxing hobby in 2010.

Permuter continued making threats while officers waited with him for a tow truck, telling one police officer that two other officers at the scene “wouldn’t stand a chance,” and explaining how he would deliver a palm strike to the forehead to an officer and an elbow to his eye, “sending his eyeball flying,” the police report states.

During the drive to the police station, he referred to a female officer as “baby doll” and told her about his close friendship with the ex-chief of the St. Louis County Police. He also spoke of another police officer friend “who told him that cops are fat and lazy.”

At the station he told the female officer that she needed to lose “at least 30 pounds,” making comments that she should “learn how to use a computer” and calling her a “slow bitch.”

Permuter shouted at officers throughout the process, according to the report, telling them he knew how a breathalyzer worked, despite using it incorrectly, and that he already knew his Miranda rights.

When it came time to take his mug shot, he insisted on holding up a peace sign with both hands and when officers told him to put his arms down for the photo he stated, “If Steve McQueen could take his mug shots this way, then so can I,” according to the report. (The peace sign is not visible in the mug shot.)

A month after his arrest, Permuter’s then-attorney, Joel Eisenstein, said Permuter was not intoxicated during the incident.

Information from Permuter, and receipts from Mike Duffy’s in Richmond Heights, indicate he had three glasses of wine on the afternoon of the incident. He told officers that he had not eaten that day, and that he was on medication. The type of medication was not disclosed in police reports.

His blood alcohol concentration was 0.06, which is below Missouri’s legal limit of 0.08. Court filings, however, cite Missouri law that permit “conviction of intoxicated driving based on the testimony of a lay witness where there is evidence that a person has recently consumed alcohol and drugs and is then observed exhibiting signs of impaired judgment and motor skills consistent with intoxication.”

“The observations of the Richmond Heights Police Department documented in the submitted reports constitute sufficient proof of Defendant’s intoxication,” the filing states.

That included failed field sobriety test like the walk and turn test, in which Permuter swayed and lost his balance, and the one-leg stand test, during which Permuter began performing squats.
Permuter exhibited other odd behaviors throughout the incident, including performing backward and forward arm circles at the scene. When he removed items from his car before it was towed, officers noticed a baseball cap that appeared to be covered in fresh vomit. When asked if he threw up in the hat, Permuter replied, “No. I spilled my latte….I only throw up at the gym.”

Permuter ultimately received a two-year suspended imposition of sentence and must pay just over $400 in fine and court costs. A failure to comply charge was closed by the judge. Permuter retired earlier this year, just prior to reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Alan Pratzel, Missouri’s chief disciplinary counsel, declined to comment on any specifics regarding Permuter’s case.

When asked what attorney discipline typically comes from a DWI charge, Pratzel said there are “just too many circumstances,” surrounding any particular DWI, like injuries, property damage and the response of the attorney, that come into play to say “whether any particular result is ‘typical.’”

When asked how disrespecting and threatening police officers might factor in, Pratzel said “such conduct could potentially lead to additional charges against the attorney or be treated as aggravating circumstances, which the OCDC would analyze in determining the appropriate sanction to seek.”

Rittman said the rule generally used in DWI cases, 4-8.4(b), deals with attorneys that commit a criminal act “that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.”

“A single DWI may not reflect on the lawyer’s fitness,” she said.

A failure to comply charge, however, could “certainly factor into OCDC looking into whether they were going to pursue it,” she said.

The range of possible discipline is anywhere from an admonition to disbarment. Trying to predict what might happen in any attorney discipline case is difficult, Rittman said.

“The thing about attorney discipline is that in every situation what occurs is fact specific to that situation,” she said.