FAIRFAX, Va. – A judge on Thursday tossed out drunken driving charges against the former head of the Federal Aviation Administration after seeing video of the traffic stop and ruling that the officer had no legitimate reason to stop the driver.
Randy Babbitt, 65, resigned his post in December after news of his arrest became public.
At a trial Thursday, General District Judge Ian O'Flaherty dismissed the case after seeing video that showed Babbitt making what appeared to be a normal left turn into a parking lot, even though the officer had said that Babbitt had been driving on the wrong side of the road.
O'Flaherty called the traffic stop a "hunch" and dismissed the case before prosecutors could even present evidence of Babbitt's alleged intoxication.
Babbitt's lawyer, Peter Greenspun, disputed the fact that Babbitt was intoxicated in the trial's opening statement. He said the first breath test administered gave a result of .07, under the .08 legal limit. It was only subsequent breath tests that showed an intoxication level above .08, and Greenspun said police are not allowed to give multiple tests until they get a result they like.
Babbitt, after the case was dismissed, told reporters he was glad to have the matter behind him and spoke graciously about the officer who arrested him.
"He certainly was acting in good faith," Babbitt said of the officer. In an emailed statement, Babbitt said, "I am thrilled the charges against me have been dismissed at trial and I have been found not guilty."
Babbitt said he does not regret resigning from the FAA and that he plans to work in aviation consulting.
Babbitt was arrested in the city of Fairfax after attending a Dec. 3 dinner party with friends. Greenspun said Babbitt, a resident of Reston, Va., was unfamiliar with Fairfax roads. Several witnesses at the dinner party were prepared to testify that Babbitt drank 2 ½ or three glasses of wine at the party over a period of nearly four hours and that none saw any noticeable impairment.
"It is not against the law for Mr. Babbitt to have two or three drinks" at a dinner party, Greenspun said. "There was no reason for him not to get in that car."
Prosecutor John Kassabian had opposed the judge's decision to dismiss the case. He argued that the officer did have a legitimate reason to pull Babbitt over because of the way in which he made the turn and because he said Babbitt failed to use a turn signal.
Babbitt was a former airline captain and internationally recognized expert in aviation and labor relations when Obama tapped him in 2009 to head the FAA. He was a pilot for now-defunct Eastern Airlines for 25 years and had served as president of the Air Line Pilots Association in the 1990s. His nomination was warmly received by both industry officials and airline unions.