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RMV can’t extend DUI suspension, court rules

By John R. Ellement
Globe Staff / February 18, 2011

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A divided state Appeals Court yesterday 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 court said that state 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 before another state notified the Registry of a conviction, as happened in this case.

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 phone interview yesterday, DiGregorio said that he is eager to resume driving and that he should not be seen by other drivers as a threat.

“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 Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles suspended his 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 — after Connecticut formally reported his two convictions to the National Drivers Registry in 2007, according to the court.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles was mistaken, 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 was sworn in yesterday.

In his dissent, Judge R. Marc Kantrowitz said the conclusion undermines safety concerns raised by the Registry and the Patrick administration.

“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 judgment makes the Registry’s legal obligation to “monitor those convicted out of state of drunk driving difficult, if not impossible, to enforce,’’ Judge Kantrowitz wrote.

Registrar Rachel Kaprielian said the Patrick administration is reviewing its options, including whether to take the case to the Supreme Judicial Court.

She said some 5 million records are added — or updated — on the National Drivers Registry every day.

“As a matter of course, we just don’t have the capacity and resources to run every single [Massachusetts] driver’s record,’’ she said. “We don’t run those unless there is a reason to.’’

John Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com.