Wood could face expulsion — (The Journal-Sentinal)

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The Journal-Sentinal

By Patrick Marley of the Journal Sentinel

Posted: Oct. 22, 2009

Wood accused of drug-related DUI, bail-jumping in third case this year

Madison­ State Rep. Jeff Wood (I-Chippewa Falls) was charged Thursday with driving under the influence of prescription drugs and bail jumping – raising his chances of becoming only the second lawmaker to be expelled from the Legislature in 161 years.

Wood’s arrest Wednesday in Tomah marked the third time in less than a year he was picked up on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The arrests come as lawmakers try to crack down on drunken driving.

Before Wood’s arrest Wednesday, Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan (D-Janesville) said he was reluctant to try to expel Wood. But he signaled his attitude was changing in a statement Thursday.

“We must take a very hard look at his case and determine if he is truly able to serve the people of his district,” Sheridan said. “Rep. Wood must take responsibility and be held accountable for his actions. . . . Rep. Wood has brought shame not only on himself, but on the Wisconsin State Assembly.”

Gov. Jim Doyle on Thursday told The Associated Press that Wood should resign.

“When you’re just simply not providing the basic representation, you’ve got to acknowledge that and step aside and allow somebody else to represent that district,” Doyle said.

Wood, 40, was convicted of drunken driving in 1990 and 1991.

This January, he was charged in Columbia County with drunken driving and possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia. In September, he was arrested in Marathon County on suspicion of driving under the influence of anti-anxiety drugs and cold medicine. Charges in that case could be filed soon, said Assistant District Attorney Laura Kohl.

Those two cases, as well as Thursday’s case in Monroe County, could result in third, fourth and fifth offenses of driving under the influence.

A fifth offense would be a felony, which would force Wood out of the Legislature. But the three cases could take months to resolve and stretch past the November 2010 election.

Thursday’s bail-jumping charge stems from a condition of his bail in Columbia County that required him to maintain absolute sobriety and barred him from committing crimes. In Columbia County, he was charged with possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and third offense drunken driving.

Wood’s staff was not in his Capitol office Thursday and did not return calls.

Expulsion to be reviewed

Sheridan soon will form a committee of three Democrats and three Republicans that will review a resolution by Rep. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) to expel Wood. Nass introduced the resolution in response to Wood’s Sept. 23 arrest in Marathon County.

Expelling him would require a two-thirds vote of the Assembly.

The only lawmaker to be expelled since Wisconsin became a state was Frank Raguse, a Milwaukee Socialist who was removed in 1917 for refusing to retract statements his colleagues deemed disloyal to the United States.

Wood’s attorney, Tracey Wood, said lawmakers were acting prematurely in trying to remove the lawmaker. The Woods are not related.

“People in our system are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” she said. “It seems a little crazy to me to rush to judgment.”

Blood tests will not be available for months in the two cases where he is suspected of driving under the influence of drugs, she said.

Wood was first elected as a Republican in 2002. He quit the party in the summer of 2008, and in November became the first independent elected to the Legislature since 1928.

“I’m not sure the people of the 67th (Assembly District) are being served,” said Assembly Republican Leader Jeff Fitzgerald of Horicon.

In September, Wood joined his colleagues in a unanimous vote to make fourth offense driving under the influence a felony if it occurs within five years of the third offense. Less than a week later, he was arrested on what could be a fourth offense.

According to the complaint filed Thursday in Monroe County Circuit Court, Wood was pulled over Wednesday after another driver called to report she saw him weave out of his lane and into oncoming traffic. She said he twice entered intersections on red lights, stopped in the intersections and then backed up.

When officers pulled Wood over, he struck the curb, drove back into traffic and then drove up onto the curb, the complaint said. During field sobriety testing, he fell onto the back of his car and lost his balance a second time.

A breath test showed he had no alcohol in his system. Police found he had 55 tablets of naproxen, an anti-inflammatory used to control pain; 22 tablets of fluoxetine, an anti-depressant commercially known as Prozac; and 25 tablets of an antibiotic.

He was released Thursday afternoon from the Monroe County Jail after posting $1,000 bail in cash.

After his September arrest, Wood said he had enrolled in an in-patient treatment program at a veterans hospital in Minneapolis. He was later transferred to a program in Tomah, said Sheridan’s office.

Wood was absent for Tuesday’s Assembly session, which his office said was because he was in treatment.