State Sen. Lee Constantine is Arrested on DUI Charge

By Amy C. Rippel | Sentinel Staff Writer. John Kennedy and Andrea Perera of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
Posted May 10, 2004

State Sen. Lee Constantine was arrested early Sunday on a DUI charge after a Maitland police officer tracked the senator's car drifting in and out of the traffic lane and smelled alcohol on his breath, according to a police report.

Constantine, 51, R-Altamonte Springs, refused to take a Breathalyzer test, the report said. He was released from the Orange County Jail about 10 a.m. Sunday after posting $500 bond.

By Sunday afternoon, Constantine's black Mercedes was parked outside his Altamonte Springs condominium. Knocks at his door and several phone calls to his home and cell phones went unanswered.

Mark NeJame, Constantine's attorney, said Constantine "absolutely was not under the influence to the extent that his normal faculties were impaired."

Refusing the breath test is a "pretty common thing," NeJame said. "People know they are inherently unreliable."

Constantine, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, earned plaudits in the recently completed legislative session for building a consensus on a plan to complete the Wekiva Parkway without destroying a sensitive springshed the road must cross.

In the arrest report, Maitland police Officer Monte Ertel wrote that after pulling Constantine over late Saturday, ". . . I immediately noticed that his eyes were both red and glassy."

" I could also smell a strong odor of alcoholic beverages from his breath," Ertel wrote. "[Constantine] stated he had been drinking but had only a couple of drinks. During this time, [Constantine's] speech was very slow and hard to understand."

Shortly before midnight Saturday, Ertel said, he spotted a black Mercedes traveling east on Maitland Boulevard on the Interstate 4 overpass.

Ertel said the Mercedes drifted within the traffic lane, across the solid yellow line toward the median and then back toward the right-hand lane, several times. The car then sped up and was clocked at 57 mph in a 45-mph zone. The car was pulled over at Maitland Avenue and Maitland Boulevard.

Constantine was asked to perform several field-sobriety tests.

" Based on my observations, training and experience, I placed [Constantine] under arrest... " Ertel wrote. The charge was DUI with a prior conviction.

The incident was taped by the patrol car's video system. Police refused to release the videotape Sunday night.

Constantine's first DUI arrest came in 1990, when he was an Altamonte Springs city commissioner. He later pleaded no contest.

In 1998, as a member of the state House of Representatives, Constantine pushed for a bill that toughened Florida's drunken- driving laws.
A real-estate consultant and broker, he was first elected to the state Senate in 2000 after serving eight years in the House. Constantine has laid groundwork to try to rise to the Senate presidency. With two other senators, Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, having the post all but locked up through 2008, Constantine has been angling for the top spot beginning in 2009.

Though that date is seemingly far off, he has launched a political committee that has raised more than $130,000 to help him toward his goal.

Saturday's episode, however, could complicate his political future, a Senate colleague said.

" Lee happens to be one of the Republicans I have the utmost respect for," Senate Democratic Leader Ron Klein of Boca Raton said Sunday night. "He is extremely fair, qualified and has shown real leadership on some real tough issues in education and the environment."

Klein conceded, though, that a DUI arrest could be used against Constantine by leadership rivals in the Senate.

" Obviously, something like this in some people's minds will come across as a question of bad judgment," Klein said. "But I wish him well. I feel sad. He's a real solid guy."

Source: Orlando Sentinel