June 14, 2006 in Nation/World

Patrick Kennedy pleads guilty

Johanna Neuman Los Angeles Times
The Spokesman-Review photo

(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, D-R.I., pleaded guilty Tuesday to a charge of driving under the influence of prescription drugs in a plea bargain with prosecutors stemming from a middle-of-the-night incident last month in which he nearly sideswiped a police cruiser.

District of Columbia Superior Court Magistrate Judge Aida Melendez placed the six-term congressman on supervised probation for a year. He was ordered to attend weekly meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, confer regularly with a psychiatrist, submit to random urine tests and contribute $100 to a crime victims fund and $250 to the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington, where he will also do 50 hours of community service. If Kennedy violates the terms of his probation, she added, he will go to jail for 10 days and pay a fine.

“I’ve always said I wanted to take full responsibility for my actions, and today in court I did just that,” Kennedy said after his sentence was announced.

Standing at Kennedy’s side on the courthouse steps was not his father – Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts – but a Republican colleague from Minnesota who is a recovering alcoholic.

“As a grateful recovering alcoholic of 25 years, I’m pleased to be his sponsor,” said Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn.

Kennedy, 38, has said he has struggled with depression and drug addiction since he was a teenager. He was treated for cocaine abuse after graduating from high school.

The incident that led to Kennedy’s courtroom appearance Tuesday began at 2:47 a.m. on May 4, when Kennedy crashed his green 1997 Ford Mustang convertible into a security barrier on Capitol Hill.

Later that day, Kennedy said in a statement that he had consumed no alcohol but acknowledged he had taken two prescription medications, Ambien for sleeplessness and Phenergan for stomach inflammation. The next day, he called a news conference to say he was checking himself into the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., to treat an addiction to prescription drugs.

Kennedy stayed there for 28 days, and Ramstad visited every Saturday, accompanying him to recovery meetings. Ramstad quit drinking when he woke up from a blackout in a jail cell in Sioux Falls, S.D. Kennedy will be required to call Ramastad weekly. Ramstad said Tuesday that Kennedy told him, “This is the first time in my life I’ll have a Republican telling me what to do.”

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