Minutes after his attorney obtained a delay for his drunken-driving trial Monday, Atlantic County Surrogate Jim Curcio decided to plead guilty to his second DWI charge in two years — but added that he would not resign his position.
Curcio, of Hammonton, also pleaded guilty to refusing a breath test after he was stopped by Mullica Township police April 27 on Route 30.
Curcio previously pleaded guilty to a driving-while-intoxicated charge out of Hamilton Township in 2010, one month before the then-Atlantic County freeholder chairman was elected surrogate as a Republican over Democrat Jim Carney.
Because this was Curcio’s second DWI conviction, Municipal Court Judge Louis Belasco — hearing the case in North Wildwood due to a conflict with Curcio’s work in Atlantic County — sentenced him to $1,303 in fines, 30 days of community service, a two-year loss of his license, and the installation of a breath-activated ignition device in his car for a year afterward. Curcio’s attorney, John Tumelty, handed over Curcio’s license to the judge.
Belasco allowed Curcio’s participation in an intoxicated-driver program to satisfy a two-day jail sentence, in addition to allowing a seven-month license suspension for the refusal charge to be served concurrently with his two-year suspension.
The plea took place after Tumelty successfully motioned to adjourn until October. The judge would have reviewed a recent court decision involving an arrestee not being fully informed of all consequences for refusing a breath test.
But after consulting with Curcio outside the court chambers, Tumelty instead worked out a plea agreement with acting Atlantic County First Assistant Prosecutor Diane Ruberton, and the hearing was reconvened.
Curcio admitted in court to drinking “several beers” before his arrest, adding that it affected his ability to safely operate a car and left him impaired. He also admitted to “not providing an adequate breath sample,” as Tumelty put it, which is considered refusal by law.
“I feel like in my position, it would be better to accept responsibility and bring an end to this now, so I can put (this) behind me,” Curcio said afterward.
Tumelty said Curcio was involved in an “intensive” 12-week program at the Lighthouse drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic in Mays Landing and “hasn’t had a thing to drink since that April date.”
While Atlantic County Republican Chairman Keith Davis had previously said Curcio should resign if convicted a second time, Curcio said, “No, I’m not going to resign. I don’t think that would accomplish anything positive.
“The main thing to me is that I tried to continue on with my public responsibilities without interruption,” Curcio continued. “None of this has had an adverse effect on my ability to perform the functions of my position. I’ve tried to make the changes I’ve needed and want to continue on in all my responsibilities.”
Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Jim Schroeder issued a statement calling for Curcio to resign immediately.
“He needs to do the right thing and resign from office,” Schroeder said in his statement. “He has betrayed the public trust and has behaved in a way that is beneath the high standards we should expect from a member of the Judiciary.”
Schroeder cited Gov. Chris Christie’s remarks in calling for Trenton Mayor Tony Mack to resign in a corruption case, in which Christie said, “Once indicted, he should resign. It puts a cloud over the office. You don’t have an entitlement to a public office.” Schroeder also cited Davis’ comments after Curcio’s April arrest, in which Davis said, “If these charges are proven true, (Curcio) has an obligation to do the right thing and immediately resign as surrogate.”
“In this instance, I agree with Gov. Christie and Keith Davis,” Schroeder said. “It is time for Jim Curcio to do the honorable thing and surrender his office. I hope for his sake and that of his family that his problems can be addressed and that he and an innocent public will be spared the risk of this ever happening again.”
Davis said he had no further comment Monday beyond his previous statement.
The hearing had been postponed twice from May and July — the second time at the request of the Prosecutor’s Office — and the Sept. 19 deadline has passed for when a resignation would have prompted a special election in November. Atlantic County Clerk Ed McGettigan said that if Curcio were to resign now, a replacement would be appointed by the Atlantic County Republican Committee to serve until a special election in November 2013.
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