VERO BEACH — The moment of truth for Joe Baird has arrived.
County Administrator Baird was due back in the Indian River County Courthouse at 8:30 Tuesday morning to face the five women and two men who will weigh the driving under the influence charges against him, deciding his fate — and potentially his professional career.
Baird was arrested for DUI after a traffic stop at 10:26 p.m. on Saturday, May 16 on his way from a Youth Guidance Luau fundraiser held at the Polish-American Club in Wabasso. Stopped by Vero Beach Police Department Lt. Matt Harrelson due to faulty brake lights and speeding at 43 mph in a 30 mph zone on Miracle Mile just west of 6th Avenue, Baird was asked to perform roadside sobriety tests in the parking lot near Radio Shack after refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test.
He was arrested on the basis of the alleged impairment officers saw in his performance on those tests, which has been widely viewed on a YouTube video released by the State Attorney’s Office. Baird has claimed that vertigo hampered his ability to maintain balance.
Assistant State Attorney David Dodd’s case will hinge upon the testimony of the two Vero Beach Police Department officers involved in the traffic stop, and upon the supposed documentation of impairment shown on the tape recorded by the dashboard video camera in the police car and by a camera in the booking room.
Baird’s own statements made to police about his drinking earlier that day and about his being on the way to the Long Branch Saloon when police pulled him over will also be used to try to establish an impaired thought process.
In Baird’s defense, attorney Bobby Guttridge will attempt to find inconsistencies in the statements of law enforcement officers and alleged unfair or overly zealous investigation techniques. Guttridge is also expected to call numerous witnesses present at the Youth Guidance Luau to attest to Baird’s state when he left the party.
In the end, it will all be up to the jury members, who were finally allowed to go home Monday after a 10-hour day of jury selection that saw some number of potential jurors dismissed before the required panel was selected.
Guttridge stated he was “glad to have a jury” at the end of the day Monday, and that he was satisfied that nothing improper or illegal had occurred during the jury selection process.
Judge David Morgan explained to jurors that Baird had the right to choose a jury trial instead of a hearing only before a judge because, if convicted, his liberty may be at stake. A first-offense DUI charge, even without accident or injury, carries a potential penalty of up to six months in the County Jail. Lesser penalties include a $500 fine, suspension of driving privileges for six months, probation of up to one year, community service and mandatory attendance at a DUI class.
In Baird’s case, since he works for the Indian River Board of County Commissioners, his job may also be at stake.
In accordance with the County’s Drug-Free Workplace Policy, Commissioners are required to decide on a course of appropriate disciplinary action — up to and including termination — within 30 days of the disposition of any criminal charges.
If Baird were terminated, his employment contract calls for him to receive up to 14 months’ pay and benefits, totalling nearly a quarter million dollars.
The trial may be concluded on Tuesday, but observers say it could run into Wednesday.