By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, who lost control of his car near the Capitol last month in what he says was a drug-induced stupor, pleaded guilty yesterday to driving under the influence of prescription medication and could face 10 days in jail if he fails to comply with a long list of court-imposed conditions.
Placed on probation for a year, Kennedy (D-R.I.) must meet monthly with the psychiatrist overseeing his after-care treatment and attend weekly meetings of a recovery group and Alcoholics Anonymous. Kennedy also must submit to random drug screening and meet regularly with a psychiatrist to monitor his mood and anxiety and use of mental health medications.
"I've always said that I wanted to take full responsibility for my actions," Kennedy said in a brief statement outside the D.C. courthouse. "Today in court, I did just that. I accepted the consequences of my actions."
The plea agreement, which was in the works when Kennedy returned from a month-long stay at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, was presented yesterday afternoon in D.C. Superior Court. Earlier in the day, Kennedy was charged with driving under the influence, reckless driving, and driving without a permit. The latter two charges were dropped in return for the guilty plea.
Kennedy, 38, who has admitted abusing pain pills and alcohol as an adult, has said that he took prescription medication to calm stomach inflammation and to help him sleep the night of the crash. He has said that he does not recall getting out of bed and has no memory of the May 4 accident in the 100 block of C Street SE, outside the Cannon House Office Building.
U.S. Capitol Police officers suspected that Kennedy was intoxicated when he staggered out of his Ford Mustang shortly before 3 a.m. after he nearly hit a police car and then crashed into a security barrier. But the six-term congressman -- who said he was trying to reach the Capitol for a vote -- was not given a sobriety test. Instead, Capitol Police commanders ordered that Kennedy be driven to his nearby home, touching off complaints that the son of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) received special treatment.
Appearing yesterday before Magistrate Judge Aida L. Melendez in a courtroom filled with reporters and curious courthouse employees, Kennedy looked calm and attentive as the events of that night were recounted.
Deputy D.C. Attorney General David M. Rubenstein said that after emerging from his green 1997 Ford Mustang, Kennedy was slurring his words and nearly fell over at one point. Kennedy was not carrying his driver's license or his congressional identification, and his eyes were red and watery, Rubenstein said.
When officers brought him home, Kennedy spent several minutes trying to open a gate before realizing that his house was next door, Rubenstein said.
A day later, Kennedy left for the Mayo Clinic to be treated for an addiction to prescription medicines. It was his second trip to the clinic in less than a year, he said. He had been a patient there during Congress's winter recess and had left the clinic "reinvigorated and healthy," he said.
Next to his attorney, N. Richard Janis, Kennedy was clear and firm in his responses to the judge's routine inquiries about his intention to plead guilty and the implications of such a decision. "Yes," he was satisfied with his attorney's service. "No," he had not taken any drugs or medication in the last two days. Only once was he more expansive. "I am pleading guilty to driving under the influence," he said.
Last week, Kennedy made his first public appearance since his clinic stay. Speaking at a Brown University conference on mental health care and addiction treatment, he said he was "confident" about his health and "positive" about his future. Kennedy also said last week that Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), who is a recovering alcoholic, had visited him at the clinic and would serve as his sponsor in recovery.
Ramstad was in court with Kennedy yesterday. Afterward, as Kennedy addressed reporters, he singled out Ramstad for thanks, calling him a "true friend."
"Personally now, he has been so important to me in this very difficult time," Kennedy said.
Recalling his own wake-up call 25 years ago, Ramstad said he was happy to be Kennedy's sponsor. "He's accepted his addiction, and he's going to be just fine one day at a time," Ramstad said.
Kennedy did not take any questions as he and his entourage left the plaza in front of the courthouse. He ignored a reporter's question about whether he had been drinking the night of the crash; he had said in May that he did not consume alcohol that evening.
Traci L. Hughes, a spokeswoman for the D.C. attorney general's office, said no evidence has been uncovered to indicate that Kennedy was drinking before the crash.
Kennedy also did not respond when asked whether he intended to resign. His spokeswoman said that he has no intention of doing so.
But the next year is likely to be one of the more scrutinized of his life, with the regular doctor visits, the random drug tests and the weekly AA meetings that were ordered by the judge.
Along with those conditions, he must perform 50 hours of community service with the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington and must contribute $250 to the organization. Also, he must not use illicit substances or engage in any other illegal activity.
If he goes astray in any way, he could be in trouble with the court. Melendez sentenced him to 10 days in jail and a $300 fine but suspended both penalties -- meaning she can impose them if Kennedy violates the terms of his probation.
Kennedy, who was born in Massachusetts, graduated from Providence College and stayed in Rhode Island to launch his political career. He was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1988 at age 21 and was reelected in 1990 and 1992 before moving to Congress.