DUI: Hillsborough County circuit judge Tracy Sheehan says she will not fight drunk driving charge

TAMPA - Judge Tracy Sheehan was supposed to be in Alaska today visiting with her 82-year-old father.  Instead, she said, she is humiliated and ready to face the consequences of her actions.

"I am just devastated.  Just devastated at my choice.  Clearly, I was not thinking straight," said Sheehan.

Judge Sheehan spoke openly on her decision to drive after spending an evening in Ybor City.  

"Well, I made a bad choice about getting behind the wheel.  And me, of all people, know what can happen if you drink and drive," said Sheehan.  "There is no excuse."

Sheehan said she and a cousin who was visiting from out of town left a parking garage near Centro Ybor on Friday night around 11:00 p.m.  They drove about a mile, and she noticed police lights behind her.  

She said she immediately realized the impact on her future.

As a lawyer, she's represented people in this same position.

"Some people say, 'You might be able to defend it,' or,  'Maybe you can get it reduced,' to a (charge of) reckless (driving), or some things that might defend the situation, but it's indefensible.  I did what I did.  I am going to own up to it and plead guilty and move forward," said Sheehan.

The judge could lose her license for a year, pay thousands in fines, be ordered to attend a DUI school and, a worst-case scenario, spend a year in jail.

As far as the bench, she is assigned to civil and family law cases, and rarely presides over criminal cases.

A court spokesperson and General Council Avid Rowland said there would be no reason to reassign Sheehan, because she does not work in the criminal division and there is no conflict of interest.

But the agency that oversees judges, the Judicial Qualifications Commission, could investigate.  The JQC could recommend further discipline, but that appears unlikely.

Rowland said, "The court system is disappointed that this occurred, but  I think the fact that judge Sheehan has taken responsibility for her actions shows character."

Judge Sheehan, who the people re-elected to a second term in 2012, hopes the public can also forgive.

"As a judge, I have always appreciated folks who owned up and accepted responsibility," said Sheehan.  "I think most of us do appreciate folks doing that."

Through the years, the judge has built a positive reputation in the Tampa Bay area.

A tireless advocate for children, she donated $100,000 from her retirement fund to help build a children's shelter.

She has also survived cancer twice.

"I am so heartbroken that I did this to so many people.  I will never do this again," said Sheehan.

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