Judge-elect's nephew ordered to trial in dismissed DUI case
A drunken-driving case that initially was dismissed nearly two years ago against the nephew of a Fayette County assistant district attorney who is now a judge-elect was held for trial on Monday after a preliminary hearing.
Robert Lee Rudnik, 30, of Connellsville is charged by state police with driving under the influence, accidents involving damage to unattended property and several traffic offenses. The charges stem from a Sept. 14, 2011, incident in which Rudnik is accused of fleeing the scene when his Dodge Durango hit a mailbox and guardrail at 1:55 a.m. along Monarch Road in Dunbar.
When the case went before before District Judge Dwight Shaner of Smock for a preliminary hearing on Dec. 13, 2011, Shaner dismissed the case.
Rudnik's aunt, Linda Cordaro, was the assistant district attorney assigned to prosecute cases at Shaner's office that day, but she told the Tribune-Review earlier this year that she recused herself from the case.
Cordaro could not be reached for comment.
At the direction of a state prosecutor who took over the case because of a conflict of interest with the district attorney's office, Trooper Joseph Ross refiled the charges in July. Shaner recused himself, and the case was reassigned to District Judge Mike Defino of Redstone.
During Monday's hearing, Thomas Brown of Monarch Road testified that he and his wife were asleep and his wife awoke because she heard a crash outside their residence, then awakened him. He said he went outside, where he saw the Durango spinning its tires as the driver tried to move the vehicle off the guardrail.
Brown testified he did not see who was driving the Durango, but he followed it in his vehicle to the driveway of one of his neighbors, James Glunt. Brown said he did not confront the driver but went back to his house and called police.
Glunt testified that Rudnik knocked on his door and asked whether he could leave the heavily damaged Durango in Glunt's driveway.
“He said he wrecked down the road, and is it OK to leave his Bronco there,” Glunt said, before correcting himself to indicate it was a Durango, not a Bronco. Glunt testified he did not see Rudnik driving the Durango.
Ross testified he arrived at the scene within 10 minutes of Brown's call and went to Rudnik's former residence in Dunbar after speaking with Glunt's wife, whom he identified as Amber Glunt. Amber Glunt did not testify at the hearing.
Ross testified that Rudnik left his house and agreed to take a field sobriety test, which he failed. Rudnik said he had been in a bar in Connellsville, Ross testified, and he acknowledged having crashed his SUV.
Rudnik was taken to the state police barracks in Uniontown, where he submitted to a test that showed a blood alcohol content of .166, Ross testified.
Rudnik's attorneys, Carl Parise and William Difenderfer of Pittsburgh, tried unsuccessfully to have the case dismissed under the speedy trial rule. They argued that Rudnik should have been tried within 365 days of the filing of the first criminal complaint in October 2011.
L. Todd Goodwin, deputy attorney general, said the speedy-trial rule does not apply because the case was refiled within the two-year statute of limitations.
Rudnik is free on $2,500 unsecured bond. He faces formal arraignment at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 17 in the courthouse in Uniontown.
The DUI charge marks the second time Rudnik has been charged with driving under the influence. According to court records, he was admitted into the accelerated rehabilitation program, or ARD, in June 2011 for six months on a DUI charge.
Rudnik asked to be placed in the probationary program for first-time, nonviolent offenders after state police said in a criminal complaint that he had a blood-alcohol content of .168 while driving on Route 119 in Connellsville on Feb. 18, 2011.
Cordaro is one of two attorneys who won the Democratic and Republican primaries for two 10-year seats on the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas. She is expected to ascend to the bench in January, after the November general election.
Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.