VERO BEACH — St. Lucie County Judge Kathryn Nelson, who oversees misdemeanor drug cases, is on the opposite side of the bench after her Tuesday evening arrest for DUI that included three Vero Beach Police officers physically removing Nelson from her car.
Nelson, 52, is charged with misdemeanor DUI with property damage and misdemeanor resisting arrest without violence. She had been released on $1,000 bail and could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
At 5:49 p.m. Vero Beach Police responded to westbound State Road 60 at the Merrill P. Barber Bridge after receiving reports of a vehicle weaving back and forth and hitting the north guardrail several times before crashing on the bridge just east of the Indian River Boulevard intersection, the arrest report states.
The police officer noticed Nelson's eyes were glassy and bloodshot, her breath smelled of alcohol, her clothes were in disarray and she appeared to have vomit on the right side of her skirt, the report states.
Nelson, who identified herself as a St. Lucie County judge, told police she was using her cellphone when she lost control of her car, the report states.
Police saw Nelson had an open bottle of Xanax prescription pills, which she initially told police was her thyroid medication. She later apologized for lying to police about the medicine, the report states.
Several times during the stop Nelson, who handles 40 percent of St. Lucie County criminal cases, declined field sobriety tests and refused to get out of her car.
It took one police officer to pry her fingers from her steering wheel and two more to remove her from the vehicle, the report states.
"Ms. Nelson continued to scream and pull away as she was restrained and placed in handcuffs," the arrest report states.
Vero Beach Police do not have a police dashboard camera video of the arrest because the officer's camera was broken, said Capt. Keith Touchberry. He said a work order had been sent before the arrest took place.
State Attorney Bruce Colton said he sent a letter on Wednesday to Gov. Rick Scott's office asking that another State Attorney's Office handle prosecuting Nelson's case. Nelson worked in Colton's office for 15 years, including as supervisor of the sex crimes division, before then Gov. Jeb Bush appointed her to county judge.
"We don't want there to be any appearance of impropriety," Colton said.
Chief Judge Steve Levin said he anticipates a judge from outside the 19th Judicial Circuit will be assigned to the case.
Reprimands for judges are handled by the state Judicial Qualifications Commission. A spokesperson could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.
Nelson, who ran unopposed in 2008 and is up for re-election in 2014, graduated from the University of Florida in 1981 and earned her law degree from then Memphis State School of Law in 1983. Her salary is $137,020.
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