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Minnesota judicial board reprimands judge over his DWI

ST. PAUL—A Ramsey County judge convicted of a DWI earlier this year has been publicly reprimanded for his conduct by the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards.

The board issued the reprimand Wednesday, finding District Judge G. Tony Atwal's conduct violated several provisions of the board's code of judicial conduct when he was caught by police driving while intoxicated on New Year's Day in downtown St. Paul.

His misconduct included failing to abide by state law, as well as failing to behave in a manner that promotes confidence in the judicial system, according to the board's report. Board members also found that Atwal abused the prestige of his position when he told his arresting officer, "So, I live right there. I'm Judge Atwal from Ramsey County," according to findings of fact the board issued on the incident.

Atwal also asked the officer three times to be let go, the board reported.

Atwal's attorney, Richard Thomas, issued a statement about the board's decision on Atwal's behalf Wednesday afternoon.

"Judge Atwal accepts full responsibility for his actions," Thomas said. "He deeply regrets they occurred and he continues to work on his recovery."

Thomas went on to say that Atwal is undergoing outpatient treatment for alcohol addiction.

The judge was pulled over at 12:45 a.m. Jan. 1 after a St. Paul police sergeant patrolling Kellogg Boulevard by John Ireland Boulevard saw a car that was traveling at least 40 mph in a 30-mph zone,

The sergeant pulled the car over and identified the driver as Atwal, who lives in downtown St. Paul. He saw Atwal's "eyes were bloodshot and glassy and that his speech was slightly slurred," according to the criminal complaint filed against him. He also "smelled a strong odor of alcohol" on Atwal's breath, the complaint continued.

The sergeant asked Atwal if he had been drinking, and he reported he had two glasses of wine and a gin and tonic, the complaint said. When Atwal was given a breath test at 2:34 a.m., he registered a 0.17 blood-alcohol concentration. The legal limit to drive in Minnesota is 0.08.

The Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards began investigating the incident after two complaints were lodged against Atwal. Atwal also self-reported his conduct to the board.

Atwal pleaded guilty to a gross-misdemeanor third-degree driving while impaired count on Jan. 2 and was immediately sentenced to a stayed prison term, plus two years of supervised probation with conditions.

The incident was the second drinking-and-driving related offense for the judge.

He pleaded guilty to a DWI in 2007 in Washington County, nine years before Gov. Mark Dayton appointed him to be a Ramsey County judge in May 2016.

His term on the bench expires in January. He will be up against at least two challengers when he seeks re-election —- attorneys Pao P. Yang and Elliott Nickell — according to candidate filings to date.

The public reprimand issued Wednesday requires Atwal to remain law abiding, follow all conditions of his probation and schedule quarterly meetings with a member of the board for the next two years.

If Atwal fails to comply, further discipline could be imposed, according to the board.

Misconduct by judicial officers can result in anything from the issuance of a private letter addressing the issue by the board to removal from the bench, Thomas said.

Ramsey County Chief District Judge John Guthmann could not be immediately reached for comment about the public reprimand.

Atwal was reassigned to hear juvenile cases following his conviction.

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