by Ivan Foley
A new judge has been appointed in a high profile felony DWI case in Platte County.
Rex Gabbert, judge in the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District, has been assigned to hear the case against Mary Robinson, the director of human resources for Platte County and the wife of Platte County Auditor Kevin Robinson.
Mrs. Robinson faces the felony DWI charge as a persistent offender. According to court documents, she has three previous DWI convictions in New York under a former last name.
She was arrested in late June at DWI checkpoint in Platte City, where authorities say her blood alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit.
Court records indicate Robinson will be arraigned in front of Gabbert on Wednesday, Dec. 17 at 9 a.m. in Division I courtroom at the Platte County Courthouse.
Robinson’s initial appearances on the charge had come in associate circuit court in front of Judge Quint Shafer. All felony cases are eventually advanced to circuit court, and initially Robinson’s case had been assigned to Platte County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Fincham.
But on Nov. 26 an order came down recusing all judges in the Platte County Sixth District Circuit.
That Nov. 26 order apparently came from presiding judge James Van Amburg.
The case is being prosecuted by the Cass County Prosecutor’s Office after the Platte County prosecutor recused himself from the case.
Interestingly, the Cass County assistant prosecutor handling Robinson’s case is Joe Van Amburg, the son of Platte County Circuit Court Judge James Van Amburg.
Early in November, The Landmark put in a call to Joe Van Amburg to ask if he felt any conflict in practicing in a circuit court where his father served as presiding judge. Joe Van Amburg declined to return the newspaper’s calls. About a week after the newspaper’s interview request was made, all judges in the Platte County circuit were recused.
At Robinson’s final appearance in front of Judge Quint Shafer on Nov. 18, an audience member sitting in the courtroom says Robinson’s attorney, Mark Ferguson, made reference to the fact he expected the case to be disposed of at a Dec. 18 arraignment in circuit court. At the time, that Dec. 18 appearance was scheduled to be in front of Fincham. It is not known whether the change in judge will affect the speed at which the case is handled.
Robinson continues to serve as the county’s HR director, which is a hired position under the direct control and supervision of the Platte County Commission. To this date she has faced no disciplinary action of note. Shortly after her arrest she was suspended from driving county vehicles, but Robinson admitted to The Landmark that she has “never driven a county vehicle” her entire time as HR director, a position to which she was hired in 2009.
Robinson has continued to draw a full paycheck and benefits even after the felony charge was filed, and sources inside the administration building tell The Landmark Robinson has not missed any significant time at work, an indication that she has not enrolled in any in-treatment alcohol program.
If convicted of the felony DWI charge, Robinson faces a maximum sentence of four years in prison, with sentencing ranging anywhere from probation to the four years in prison.
Legal sources told The Landmark that a person convicted of a felony drunk driving charge can sometimes avoid jail time by entering into DWI treatment court, which is described as an intensive treatment often a couple of years in length that includes both group and individual counseling sessions, drug testing, etc. Completing 480 hours of community service is sometimes another option.
Without the DWI treatment court or community service hours, minimum jail time upon a felony DWI conviction is 30 days, legal sources said.
Robinson was driving her personally owned 2001 Honda CRV at the time of her arrest in Platte City on the night of Friday, June 27.
According to a statement of probable cause filed with the felony charge, background investigation by authorities revealed Robinson has had at least three previous DWI offenses.
Court documents say Robinson has three DWI convictions in the state of New York under the last name of Dolan.
Court records indicate Robinson has a conviction of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated in Dover Plain, NY in 1988; a DWI in Colony Town, NY in 1999; and a DWI conviction in East Greenbush Town, NY in 2001.
Robinson’s address is listed as being on Hillview Road Circle, Kansas City in Platte County, which is about 12 miles south of Platte City. Her defense attorney is listed as Mark Ferguson.
Her most recent arrest came at about 9:30 p.m. on June 27 after she was stopped at a sobriety checkpoint being conducted by the Platte County Sheriff’s Department in Platte City on Hwy. 92 at Prairie View Rd. in front of Platte County High School.
Officers noticed a strong odor of intoxicants coming from her breath, they say, and Robinson performed poorly on standardized field sobriety tests. A portable breath test was positive for alcohol, officers say. Robinson submitted to a chemical test of her breath which revealed the .174 blood alcohol content, according to court papers. The legal limit for drivers is .08.
She was taken to the Platte County Jail where she was booked before being released a short time later on bond.
In court documents, the arresting officer, Deputy Katie Mendoza, says she considers Robinson “a danger to the community.”
“Ms. Robinson operated a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of more than twice the legal limit of .08 and she stated that she did not feel as if she was under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, showing that Ms. Robinson’s judgment is extremely impaired by the consumption of alcohol,” Mendoza says.
“Ms. Robinson also has numerous alcohol contacts from New York as recent as 2011,” according to Mendoza’s statement in court documents.
In her incident report, the arresting officer says:
“I asked Ms. Robinson if she had consumed any alcoholic beverages and she stated that she had a few to drink before picking up her car at Maria’s (a restaurant on Hwy. 92 in Platte City). Ms. Robinson’s speech was slurred and her eyes were bloodshot and glassy,” the report says.
Robinson later added that she had been at the Avalon restaurant in Weston prior to picking up her car at Maria’s. She told the officer that she had four drinks, which were rum and coke, between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m.
NOT HER FIRST TIME IN TROUBLE WITH HER EMPLOYER
The June arrest wasn’t the first piece of controversy for Robinson and the HR office in her time with the county. Most recently, some ire was raised within the administration building when an employee in Robinson’s office was the only worker in the county complex to receive a pay increase in the 2014 budget. The worker was given a 10% pay hike, even though county commissioners had publicly indicated no county employees would be receiving raises. The Landmark broke the story on Jan. 1 after noticing the salary line in the HR budget had been increased by $2,700.
Jason Brown, presiding commissioner, said he argued against the raise. Duane Soper and Beverlee Roper, associate commissioners, supported the pay increase for Robinson’s worker.
In 2012, Robinson was issued a written reprimand by then-county commissioners Jason Brown and Kathy Dusenbery. The vote was 2-0, with then-commissioner Jim Plunkett absent.
Minutes from that meeting do not indicate why the action was taken. Robinson, in a phone interview with The Landmark at that time, said: “I haven’t done anything to warrant disciplinary action.”
Brown and Dusenbery declined to comment on the reason for the action, citing the topic as a personnel matter.
A set of minutes originally issued from an Oct. 15, 2012 meeting of county commissioners indicated that on a 2-1 vote, with Plunkett opposed, Robinson would be suspended for one day without pay and that she be required to attend training sessions. “In particular, the sessions are to be oriented toward the human resources director position and are to relate to confidentiality and professionalism issues.”
Those minutes were subsequently pulled from the county record by Bob Shaw, county attorney, according to Plunkett at the time, and replaced with minutes that did not reflect any vote taken in the closed session. Shaw told Plunkett he was pulling the original minutes because the vote taken was not a “final” vote on the topic.
Following that Oct. 15, 2012, vote, Robinson hired an attorney to correspond with the county on her behalf. Ten days after a letter from Robinson’s attorney, commissioners Brown and Dusenbery voted to issue the reprimand to Robinson.
In an interview after that decision by the commission, Robinson told The Landmark she had not been told by the county what she is alleged to have said or done that led to the reprimand.
Robinson’s hiring in 2009 in itself had raised eyebrows. At the time she worked for a firm called People Wise, owned and operated by her husband Kevin, now the county auditor.
People Wise was hired in the fall of 2009 by the county commission of Betty Knight, Plunkett and Dusenbery to conduct a “management audit” of the county’s human resources department after allegations of multiple payroll mistakes had been alleged by then-county auditor Siobhann Williams and confirmed by the county’s outside auditor.
As the controversy brewed, the county commission, in the middle of what became a well-publicized feud with auditor Williams, took action to hire a third “audit” of the department.
The contract penned between People Wise and the county called for total costs of $9,000 for the management audit. The contract noted that People Wise’s billable rate is $125 per hour but “has been reduced to $56.25 per hour in consideration of current and future projects for the county.”
Two months later, Mary Robinson was hired by Knight, Plunkett and Dusenbery as the new county HR director.
At the time, Kevin Robinson served on the board of directors of the Platte City Chamber of Commerce and Knight was an advisory board member for the Chamber of Commerce.
Knight defended the hiring of Mary Robinson in a 2009 interview with The Landmark.
“We watched what she was doing and were really impressed by her knowledge of the HR office as a whole, not necessarily our office. We had no idea that she would want to accept a position,” Knight said.