A divided Appeals Court today ruled that a Wales chiropractor with three drunken driving convictions in Massachusetts and Connecticut can get his driver’s license back next year, four years earlier than the Registry of Motor Vehicles wanted.
In a 2-1 ruling, the majority said Massachusetts law is clear: The Registry must calculate the length of a drunk driver's license suspension from the date of the driver's conviction, not from when the agency learns about it -- even if years passed, as in the current case, before another state notified the Registry of a conviction.
The ruling came in the case of William B. DiGregorio, whose chiropractic office is in Sturbridge. According to the court, he was convicted of drunken driving in Massachusetts in 1997 and in Connecticut in 2000 and 2004. (His license was also suspended in 2002 when he was convicted of drug possession charges.)
In a telephone interview today, DiGregorio said he is eager to resume driving, and that he should not be seen by other drivers as a threat. He said he spends $200 a week on a driver who shuttles him 32 miles to work in the morning and at night.
“I am no longer a problem. I should be fine. I am clean and sober now,’’ DiGregorio said. The court said DiGregorio completed an alcohol treatment program at the insistence of Connecticut officials. “I never killed anybody," he said. "I’ve been clean and sober for six years."
He added, “It cost me a fortune for them to finally rule that whatever was stated in the law is right. And I can’t even sue them for legal fees.’’
After DiGregorio's third drunken driving infraction, the Registry suspended DiGregorio’s license in 2004 for eight years with a restart date of October 2012. But the Registry then tried to keep him off the roads for a longer time -- until 2016 -- when Connecticut formally reported his two convictions to the National Drivers Registry in 2007, according to the court.
The Registry was wrong, the majority wrote.
“Under the express terms of that subsection, the registrar is prohibited from restoring the driving rights of a third time offender ‘until eight years after the date of conviction,’’’ Justice James R. Milkey wrote. “Courts must follow unambiguous statutory language…’’
He added, “In light of the unambiguous language of the statute, we conclude that the registrar is prohibited from restoring DiGregorio's license only until October 4, 2012, the eighth anniversary of his third OUI conviction.''
Milkey was joined by Fernande R.V. Duffly, who took part in the case before she was confirmed as the newest member of the Supreme Judicial Court. Duffly will be sworn in today.
In his dissent, Judge R. Marc Kantrowitz said the conclusion undermines the public safety concerns raised by the Registry and the Patrick administration in court papers and during an oral argument to the three-judge panel.
“Skipping over whether the result here is absurd, it certainly is contrary to the Legislature's manifest intention to protect its citizenry by keeping repeat drunk drivers off of its roads,’’ Kantrowitz wrote.
He added, “The decision places the registrar at the mercy of the posting dates of our sister States, over which Massachusetts has no control.’’
The majority's conclusions now makes the Registry's legal obligation to “monitor those convicted out-of-State of drunk driving difficult, if not impossible, to enforce,'' Kantrowitz wrote.
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