An East Hampton man, James J. Brennan, 60, who has been convicted of driving while intoxicated four times in the last 21 years, was sentenced for the latest incident on Jan. 15, in the Cromarty Criminal Court building in Riverhead. Mr. Brennan, whose last three convictions were for felony D.W.I., has spent just a week in jail during the two decades, never having actually been sentenced to serve time. Nor was he last week.
Following all of the arrests, Mr. Brennan’s blood-alcohol content was recorded at unusually high levels, at least three to four times the current legal limit. After his first arrest, on July 3, 1993, the level was recorded at .33 of one percent. The legal limit at the time was .10; it is now .08.
Mr. Brennan has always been well represented in court. His attorney after his first arrest was Edward D. Burke Sr., a Southampton Town Court Justice since 1991. Mr. Brennan pleaded guilty as charged in East Hampton Justice Court before Justice Edward Horne, who revoked his license for six months, fined him $500, and directed him to enter a program for drunken-driving offenders.
A little more than a year later, on Dec. 10, 1994, his 41st birthday, he was again pulled over for swerving across lane lines. This time, his blood alcohol content was recorded at .32.
He was arraigned in East Hampton Court by Justice James Ketcham, this time on a felony charge, with the understanding that the case would be moved to Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverhead upon indictment.
His attorney, John O’Brien, arranged a disposition of the case in April 1995. Mr. Brennan waived his right to have the case brought before a grand jury and pleaded guilty as charged in Riverhead. Justice Gary J. Weber revoked his license for a year, fined him $1,000, put him on probation for three years, and required him to enter another drinking-and-driving program.
On Sept. 6, 2003, town police found Mr. Brennan’s 1994 Isuzu Trooper parked on the shoulder of Northwest Landing Road in East Hampton with noticeable front-end damage. He was initially unable to recall what happened, but later said he had hit a deer. Back at headquarters, his alcohol level was recorded at .31.
He posted bail after Justice Lisa Rana arraigned him here, again retaining Mr. O’Brien. On Feb. 5, 2005, in Criminal Court in Riverhead, Justice Barbara Kahn accepted a plea of guilty to aggravated D.W.I., and sentenced Mr. Brennan to three years’ probation and a $1,000 fine. He was required to complete yet another alcohol and drug treatment program at Phoenix House in East Hampton.
The latest arrest happened last year on Aug. 21 on Springs-Fireplace Road in East Hampton. Officer Frank Trotta reported that Mr. Brennan told him, “I shouldn’t have been driving. I was drunk!” The officer added the exclamation mark to his report.
Mr. Brennan’s alcohol level was .25, triggering another aggravated charge of D.W.I. His attorney this time was Rita Bonicelli, a former assistant D.A. in the Bronx, now associated with the Brill Group in Bridgehampton.
Her first challenge was to get her client out of the county jail. Because of the three prior felony convictions, he was ineligible for bail on the town court level. Only a higher court judge could set bail for him.
Justice Richard Ambro of Criminal Court later released him without bail, pending sentencing, on condition that he immediately enter an in-house drug and alcohol program. He did so.
In November, Mr. Brennan pleaded guilty to the aggravated charge.
Two friends, a man and a woman, who had driven him to Riverhead from East Hampton, were with him in the courtroom last week as he awaited sentencing.
The woman who had accompanied him asked Ms. Bonicelli about his car, which had been confiscated by the county, and his license. The lawyer said she was in the process of getting the car back from the county, with strict conditions set, but that the license was another story. “The [Department of Motor Vehicles] deals with themselves, the county deals with themselves.” The license, she said, would be revoked for five years, with an additional five-year waiting period, during which the license could be returned at any time.
Justice Ambro took the bench. “Is your client ready for sentencing?” he asked. Mr. Brennan stood before him next to Ms. Bonicelli, with an assistant district attorney to their right. The justice asked the defendant if he had anything to say before sentence was pronounced.
“It was very irresponsible, what I did,” he responded.
“The thing is, it has happened before,” said Justice Ambro. “If it happens again, you are very likely to be serving time in state prison.”
He sentenced Mr. Brennan to five years’ probation, which the D.A.’s office had agreed to, and a $1,000 fine.