Attorney: Dawn Wells “devastated” by “ruthless, false statements”

Headline writers were flying high this week as news broke out of Idaho that Gilligan’s Island star Dawn Wells had been “caught with drugs,” resulting in a “nearly three hour tour of the Teton County Sheriff’s Office and jail” for the actress who played the role of Mary Ann.

“Perhaps they should have called her Mary Jane,” was the lead sentence in the March 11 Associated Press article.

All unfair–even flat-out wrong–according to Wells’ attorney.

“She is devastated by the ruthless and false statements being made about her,” Ron Swafford wrote in a March 12th e-mail to me.

The skeptic will wonder if the attorney’s effort is simply aimed at “damage control.”

The cynic has already delighted in having made that conclusion.

But this blog’s aim is to keep an open mind about all possibilities.

More than four months have passed since the Wells arrest.

And because so much time has passed, this case has already played out in court.

Dawn Wells pleaded guilty to one count of reckless driving. Swafford emphatically states that Wells never served any jail time. He says published reports–including an Associated Press article–suggesting that Wells did serve jail time are simply incorrect.

Wikipedia’s update on Wells states she was sentenced to five days in jail for the October 18, 2007 arrest. Wikipedia cites the Seattle Post Intelligencer which, by the way, ran the AP’s version of the story. (*Just noticed Wikipedia has now further updated its Dawn Wells entry to include Swafford’s side of this story).

So, where’s the rub?

In fairness to the AP (an organization that I respect), it properly reported that Wells was “sentenced” to five days in jail. However, it appears to have left out the important distinction that the jail time was suspended.

Precisely, according to Wells’ lawyer.

“Yes,” Swafford began. “This judge routinely orders 5 days, then suspends all of it, and puts them on informal probation. This only means that they must pay the fine and not commit any serious crime in the future. Traffic/driving incidents are not usually of concern. They leave and it is over. It is just a routine with some judges in Idaho. They have done it for years, and hold on to their patterns. She (Wells) served absolutely no jail, and as stated, in fact received a withheld judgment so that it will not appear on her record. I was there. It happened just that way. There just isn’t more to the story.”

Swafford also points out that there was never a plea bargain regarding the marijuana charge. He said the State dismissed the drug charge after a “third party” appeared in court and claimed “full and exclusive responsibility for the existence of the marijuana.”

Wells was pulled over by a Teton County Sheriff’s deputy last fall as she drove home from a surprise birthday party. Everyone agrees that Wells’ vehicle did “weave” on the roadway.

Swafford asserts that Wells’ weaved as she was “reaching for her heater controls in an unfamiliar new car.” He maintains that his client’s vehicle had been used by someone else “the entire day” on the date of Wells’ arrest. And that this “third party” had left a small amount of marijuana in the car without Wells’ knowledge.

Swafford also provided me with a copy of his Media Relations Statement of Facts further outlining his side of this story.

On that October night of her arrest, Dawn Wells turned 69. She’s lived a quiet life with–according her attorney–no criminal history prior to this incident.

“It is unfortunate that people forget they are making jokes which cause genuine pain and harm to people’s lives, careers and livelihoods. Dawn plead guilty to one charge—which unfortunately is defined as reckless driving in Idaho. It is defined in Idaho Code 49-1401 as driving carelessly, heedlessly or without due caution and circumspection. She weaved and admitted it. She did not serve jail time; it was not a plea bargain. Quite the opposite. It was one of those cases where the investigation revealed her only offense was driving carelessly,” Swafford told me in an e-mail.

Damage control? You decide. But best to do so after reading more on this case. And getting past the media frenzy for a celebrity mug shot.

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