Vermont official sentenced for second DUI
BRATTLEBORO, Vt. -- On Tuesday, Nona Maria Monis asked to spend the weekend in jail.
Having pleaded guilty to her second drunken-driving charge, Monis said her job as Dover's town administrator would not allow her enough time to perform community service. Spending 60 consecutive hours in jail, she said, would be preferable.
But Judge David Suntag was having none of that, instead sentencing Monis to 200 hours of community service and one year of probation.
"I frankly don't care whether it's going to be difficult to do community service," Suntag said in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division. "We need our prisons as places for very dangerous and violent people. And when we lock people up or not, I think we have to be sure there's no adequate alternative.
"I don't see Ms. Monis, at the moment, posing any danger to the community after this experience," Suntag added. "I do see her owing a lot to the community because of this experience."
Monis was arrested in February for driving drunk in Dover. Prosecutors say her blood-alcohol level was 0.25, more than three times Vermont's legal limit of 0.08.
Her attorney, Springfield-based Richard Bowen, said he doesn't "put a lot of credence" in that number due to what he claims was possibly defective equipment. And Monis on Tuesday disputed the notion that she drove into a snowbank, saying instead that she drove into an empty lot.
But Bowen did not dispute that Monis was driving under the influence.
"It's high, and it's over the limit, and that's what my client has accepted," Bowen said.
‘I made a mistake'
Bowen called his client to the stand, where she testified that she has undergone alcohol counseling at Brattleboro Retreat and has attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings since her arrest.
"I can honestly say that I've taken an assessment of my life," Monis said.
"I made a mistake," she added. "It was an isolated incident, meaning that it was not something that I normally would do."
Bowen also pointed out that Monis had been a victim of domestic violence in a recently ended, long-term relationship. And he noted that her previous conviction for driving under the influence happened 16 years ago.
"A long time has passed, and a number of things have happened in that time," Bowen said.
But Monis also faced skeptical questions from Windham County Deputy State's Attorney Steven Brown, who asked her to elaborate on what her acknowledged "error in judgment" had been on the night of the arrest.
"Not to be more cognizant of what I was drinking -- one glass of wine too many," Monis replied.
Asked to specify how much she drank, Monis estimated that she had four glasses of wine.
"You think four glasses of wine gets the alcohol concentration that we have in this case?" Brown asked.
"I don't know," Monis replied.
Brown also asked why Monis, after she was stopped, refused to perform a series of field-sobriety exercises -- the "walk and turn," a one-leg stand and providing a sample of her breath roadside.
"That is your right [to refuse]," Monis said.
"It is," Brown said. "But, any other reason why?"
"No," she replied.
Brown asked Monis what had changed since her previous drunken driving charge, saying that "one of our goals is to prevent you from having a third DUI."
Monis said she had learned a lesson.
"I will assure you, you will not see me again," she said.
Police chief testifies
Tuesday's court proceeding also included testimony from Dover Police Chief Robert Edwards, who was called to the stand by Monis' attorney.
Bowen noted that Edwards works to raise "alcohol awareness" in the community, but he also asked the chief to comment on Monis' character and conduct since her arrest.
"She's told me she's made a mistake and she's ready to just deal with it," Edwards said. "And she's accepted it without trying to blame the police or anyone else."
Brown asked for Monis to receive a suspended prison sentence of nine to 12 months, of which she would serve only three days followed by two years of probation.
Bowen followed that by asking for 60 hours of imprisonment for his client, a request that surprised the judge. Monis subsequently explained by saying she wants to "move forward" and that her job "just does not allow me to complete 200 hours of community service."
Suntag disagreed, imposing a suspended prison sentence of six to 12 months with one year of probation and 200 hours of community service to be performed over 11 months.
Monis won't spend any time behind bars as long as she complies with court-ordered conditions of release.
"You can do the 200 hours of community service all at once or spread out over an extended period of time. I don't care ... but that's what I want you to do," Suntag said. "It could be helping others understand what happens when you don't make plans and have too much to drink before you go driving."
Contacted after the sentencing, Dover Selectboard Chairman Randy Terk could not say what, if any, effect the conviction would have on Monis' employment with the town.
"I have no comment regarding any action the board might take," Terk said. "It's a personnel issue."