Despite being incredibly serious and easily avoidable, DWIs are incredibly prevalent in Austin Texas, with the city ranking second in the nation for per capita DWI arrests.
While it’s difficult to pinpoint the roots of the local’s tendency to drink and drive, when an Austin judge DWI who routinely presides over DWI cases is himself charged with a DWI, it’s unsurprising residents don’t take drinking and driving seriously.
On May 7th, 2022 at around 12:30 am, Travis County judge John Lipscombe was arrested at a North Austin Homewood Suites near the Dominion after a concerned witness reported seeing the judge attempt to back into a parking space at the hotel and nearly hit a parked car.
Lipscombe then reportedly started an argument with a witness before parking his car in a handicapped space and entering the hotel where police would later find him. When met by police in the hotel lobby, police noted that Lipscombe “appeared slow to answer questions and was overall disorientated” with slurred speech.
After noting a faint scent of alcohol and Lipscombe’s demeanor, officers requested he take a preliminary breathalyzer test to which he refused and became argumentative. While a field sobriety test was forgone due to Lipscombe suffering from a broken right ankle, when asked to complete other sobriety tests Lipscombe again became argumentative and had difficulty.
After refusing to take three other sobriety tests, Lipscombe was asked to count backward from 76 to 56, where officers reported that he continuously counted to 51 before forgetting his instructions altogether and stopping.
Lipscombe eventually admitted to drinking two double shots of rum and coke at his house prior to arriving but stated this was “not enough to get messy”. While Lipscombe initially claimed to be unaware of when he started or stopped drinking, he later stated that he was at his house from around 5:30 to 7:00 pm. Lipscombe was later on given a blood test and charged with a DWI whereupon he was booked in the Travis County Jail at 9:00 am.
After his arrest and booking, Austin Judge Lipscombe pleaded guilty to a Class B misdemeanor DWI in August 2022. While Class B DWIs normally carry up to six months in jail, Lipscombe was only sentenced to one day in jail due to spending 60 days in inpatient treatment and a follow-up of 60 days in outpatient.
As a judge for the Travis County Court at Law No. 3 since 2011, Lipscombe’s DWI arrest and conviction had several impacts and was a cause for concern.
First, the case set an awful stigma for Austin, as it’s no wonder the city is riddled with drunk drivers when a judge whose main responsibility is overseeing Class A and B misdemeanor DWIs is himself charged with a Class B DWI. Lipscombe’s term thankfully ended in December 2022, and in the four months after his conviction he didn’t have much time to preside over many cases (of which DWI cases were 65% of his total caseload). However, his conviction brings the validity of many of his DWI rulings into question.
Second, the case cost Travis County taxpayers thousands of dollars, as Lipscombe’s refusal to resign during his case’s pendency forced the county to hire a visiting judge which amounted to at least $20,000 in fees over his absence. While Lipscombe had previously been scrutinized by his constituents for his protest of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, his refusal to resign post-arrest and conviction tarnished any remaining goodwill and stained his legacy as a county judge.
While Austin Judge Lipscombe’s DWI can teach Travis County residents many things, including the fact that DWI charges don’t discriminate, perhaps the most important lesson of Lipscombe’s charges is the value of a well-connected lawyer in the judicial system. Despite his charges carrying an extended jail sentence and a large fine, Judge Lipscombe walked away only spending one day in jail, largely due to his connections throughout the local courts. A prestigious and well-connected defense lawyer can acquire similar results, as a familiarity with the local prosecutors and judges can be beneficial in negotiations and the creation of a defense strategy.