Hillsborough County Circuit Court Judge Tracy Sheehan is sworn in after pleading guilty to a DUI charge at the Pinellas County Justice Cente. Her attorney, Stephen L. Romine, is at her side. JAY CONNER/STAFF
CLEARWATER — A Hillsborough County judge got her day in court today for a July DUI arrest, though it was in a Pinellas County courtroom. Hillsborough County Circuit Court Judge Tracy Sheehan pleaded guilty to a DUI charge after she was arrested last month for drunk driving in Tampa. She was sentenced to a year of probation and 50 hours of community service. Her case was transferred to Pinellas County to avoid possible conflicts of interest. “This is the same as thousands of others that will come before and probably will follow,” said Pinellas County Judge Patrick Caddell, who presided over the case. “Until we live and learn.” Sheehan, 53, also had her driver’s license revoked for six months and was ordered to complete DUI school. She will have to have an interlock device on her car. Sheehan declined to discuss her plea and sentence.
“She’s still a sitting judge, and there are still rules involving what a sitting judge can and cannot say, which can be interpreted as having a position about an issue that may be before her or not before her,” said her lawyer, Steve Romine. Shortly after her arrest, Sheehan issued a statement saying she would take full responsibility for her actions. “I am deeply sorry for the actions that resulted in this circumstance,” Sheehan said in her statement. “I made a big mistake for which I apologize wholeheartedly to my family, friends, and colleagues who have put their faith and trust in me. I take drunk driving very seriously and accept full responsibility for my actions and any penalty that comes my way in this matter.” On the night of July 5, a Tampa police officer stopped Sheehan after she left an Ybor City parking garage. She was arrested and spent the night in jail. The officer stopped Sheehan after seeing her car drift across lanes just after 11 p.m., according to an arrest report. After stopping her vehicle on Channelside Drive at Twiggs Street, the officer smelled alcohol and noticed that Sheehan’s eyes were bloodshot and that her speech was slurred, the report says. At the Hillsborough County Jail, Sheehan’s blood-alcohol level was recorded at .171 and .161, police said. Florida law presumes impairment when a driver’s blood-alcohol content is 0.08 or above. After her arrest, Sheehan went on a planned vacation before returning to the bench as scheduled, said Jeff Stidham, a spokesman the 13th Judicial Circuit. “She took about a week off, and that was it,” he said. “She was back on schedule.” It was unclear Friday whether the state Judicial Qualifications Commission will review Sheehan’s case to determine whether she is still fit for the bench. Sheehan was elected and is assigned to family court in eastern Hillsborough County. “It shouldn’t affect her, in my opinion,” Romine said. “I mean, she’s like any other citizen. This didn’t happen on the bench. It’s unrelated to her performance as a judge. It doesn’t stem from courthouse or courtroom behavior.”