“I have to be sober,” says former prosecutor on drunk driving conviction

KALAMAZOO, MI – Getting arrested and getting sober saved his life, former St. Joseph County District Attorney John McDonough told court Thursday.

McDonough, who was charged by the state attorney general with operating under the influence of alcohol and opening intoxicants in a motor vehicle after a May 11 crash near Three Rivers, pleaded guilty Jan. 28 to an additional count of driving a motor vehicle while impaired.

The first two charges were dismissed by Kalamazoo County District Judge Vincent Westra following McDonough’s guilty plea. Westra, who oversaw the case as a visiting judge, sentenced McDonough to one year of probation to include ongoing treatment for alcohol addiction, with the possibility of being released after six months.

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“I understand addiction and the insidious beast that is addiction,” Westra told McDonough. “And my main concern was that you find your way to recovery, because at the end of the day the best outcome, not just for you, not just for your family, but for the community is that you maintain a program of recovery.”

Westra praised the former prosecutor for staying sober for 137 days after overcoming some hurdles early in the process, including breaching his bail condition banning alcohol consumption.

“Liability is not just a sanction imposed by the courts,” Westra said. “The community has held you accountable. You lost a position that was very, very dear to you, something you worked hard for. And you risk losing a career you’ve spent years preparing for. But you recognize that it was the result of your actions, your actions certainly influenced by the beast.

Related: Prosecutor left the scene of the accident before returning, according to police reports

The former prosecutor – who came under public scrutiny following the accident and amid months of absence from work – lost the seat in a landslide in the August primary elections to the recently sworn-in Republican challenger attorney David Marvin.

“It has been an extremely enriching experience for me,” said McDonough, moved and at times in tears, addressing the court.

“I was very grateful that I was able to finish my term with a little dignity. I went back to work the last few months of my tenure and managed the hearings and did everything I used to do. It was a job I was very proud of and gave up. I went out without fanfare, but I’m here and that’s the most important thing.

Attorney Michael Hills, who represented McDonough in the case, said he advised his client against pleading guilty and told him he felt it was a highly judged case.

“He came to see me awhile ago and he wanted to plead guilty to a drunk driving charge and he does and he wants to take responsibility,” Hills said. “And that’s what we’re doing here today, he’s taking responsibility and taking inventory.”

Hills said his client was admittedly suffering from an addiction disorder, but he had done a good job of his recovery, attended several meetings a day and pointed out that he looked noticeably different.

“I was on my deathbed last May,” McDonough said, referring to health issues related to his drinking. “My mother was planning my funeral, my wife was in the hospital and everything was failing. Three weeks ago, I went to see the gastroenteritis and my organs are functioning normally again.

“I have to be sober no matter what or I’ll end up dead and there will be too many things I would give up doing this.” This disease had a complete hold on my life.

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