NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – New Hanover County Commissioner Brian Berger pleaded guilty Monday to one count of DWI and misdemeanor possession of schedule II narcotic that stemmed from an arrest Dec. 6, 2013.
The commissioner was sentenced to 48 hours of community service followed by supervised probation where he will be screened for alcohol or drugs. If he violates the probation, Berger could serve 45 days in jail.
The embattled politician went to the courthouse Monday morning to address a warrant that was issued for his arrest when he missed a court date last month.
In a series of text messages Berger said he missed the appearance because he was out of town and delayed due to weather. He went on to say his attorney would not return his messages.
Berger was scheduled in court to face felony drug charges that stem from his arrest December 6, 2013.
According to jail documents, Berger was arrested and charged with DWI, impeding traffic and possession of schedule II drugs after he was found slumped over the wheel of his car, unconscious.
District Attorney Ben David said officers found four different medications in the car when they arrived on scene. David said Berger had a prescription for two of the four medications, including the only one that warranted a felony charge, therefore the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor.
David explained that DWI is punished on a range of levels, 1 through 5. A level 1 charge is the worst. Berger was punished on a level 4 charge based on the prescriptions he was in possession of.
David said that Berger's 2012 DWI charge was dismissed pursuant to his plea of the other charges. If Berger passes his drug assessment on February 3, 2015, the drug case will be dismissed too, according to David.
"The choice is now his. The ball is firmly in his court," said David. "If he continues to violate the law, he is going to have to go to jail."
The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners removed Berger from the board in May via the "amotion process." A judge, however, sided with Berger's appeal and he was reinstated on the board, with a list of rules.
The new guidelines for Berger state he will not be able to use county vehicles or have a county credit card. He must be on time to meetings and he's not allowed to abuse his email privileges by sending what commissioners called "rambling emails" to county staff.
Commissioners said in September they would not seek another amotion hearing to remove Berger from the board if things went well over the next few weeks.
According to state law, a felony conviction would have automatically removed Berger from the board of commissioners.
Ben David said that in negotiations Berger indicated that he may be seeking employment out of state. The district attorney said that Berger can be placed on unsupervised probation once he completes his drug assessment. This would allow him to seek employment out of state.