A drunken driving charge was dismissed Thursday against former federal aviation chief J. Randolph Babbitt after a judge ruled that a Fairfax City police officer pulled him over without good reason in December.
It was a dramatic end to a case that had led to Babbitt’s resignation as head of the Federal Aviation Administration after a distinguished career in Washington and 25 years as a pilot with Eastern Airlines.
Fairfax City General District Court Judge Ian O’Flaherty ended the trial soon after it began. After video of the traffic stop was played in court, the judge said the officer had pulled Babbitt over on a “mere hunch.”
The video showed Babbitt making a routine left-hand turn into a Fairfax City business complex from the southbound lane of Old Lee Highway. In the process, Babbitt crossed double yellow lines and a northbound lane, but he did not drive on the wrong side of the road as Fairfax City Officer Mike Morris alleged in the criminal complaint.
Defense attorney Peter Greenspun also said the first breath test given to Babbitt showed that he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.07, below Virginia’s legal limit of 0.08. A prosecutor said in court that later tests showed Babbitt exceeding the legal limit, but the case was dismissed before that evidence was presented.
“I’m happy to have it behind me,” Babbitt said afterward. “Candidly, it’s been a tough time.”
In his opening statement, Greenspun said Babbitt attended a dinner party in Fairfax City the night of Dec. 3. Babbitt had 2 1 / 2 or three glasses of wine between 6:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., Greenspun said. In all, seven people drank less than three bottles of wine, and there was no sign that Babbitt was impaired, Greenspun said.
Babbitt, 65, a Reston resident, left the party and turned on his Global Positioning System device to navigate home, but he was headed in the wrong direction when he made the left turn on Old Lee Highway. Morris pulled him over after he turned into the driveway of the business complex about 10:30 p.m., the officer testified.
After the arrest, Babbitt, who was appointed by President Obama in 2009, was placed on administrative leave. Days later, he resigned.
In a written statement after his resignation, Babbitt said that his work as FAA administrator was an “absolute honor” and that he was “unwilling to let anything cast a shadow on the outstanding work done . . . by my colleagues.”
Babbitt said Thursday that he was not sorry that he had resigned and that he had no ill will toward the officer who arrested him. Babbitt said he planned to work in aviation consulting.
“There was no criminal activity from start to finish,” Greenspun said after the trial. “Tragically for Mr. Babbitt, [the case] became very public.”