'DUI Joe' – Joseph Breidenbach, Class of '77 – From the North Dakota Tundra to Heaven in Burien
You can be arrested for driving under the influence even if you have not had a single drink of alcohol, but simply followed your doctor's orders to take a prescribed drug, says Burien lawyer Joseph Breidenbach, better known locally as "DUI Joe."
"Even if you are taking a prescription from a doctor and have been told you are safe to drive, it is not a defense to DUI that the drugs you are using were prescribed by a doctor," he says. "If you get in a car accident and the police officer thinks you are affected by the drugs you have been taking, you are going to get charged with a DUI."And the scary part is that they will frequently ask you to do what they call a 'field sobriety test' where you walk a straight line and stuff like that. I can guarantee you that if I had you do those tests, you would fail them."
This is the kind of information Breidenbach dispenses to his clients, of course, but providing information to the wider public is why he began doing a weekly Internet radio program on South King Internet Radio, a sister venture of The B-Town Blog and others associated with South King Media. You can listen to his program on line most Thursdays by clicking his button on the Blog.
Breidenbach now specializes in DUI – or "driving under the influence" – influence of what is the legal rub.
Clients need help
"It's challenging work and my clients need help. And I give it to them. I decided to do the work I was most hired for and this is it."
He says most businesses have a marketing strategy and his is to promote his speciality as a DUI defense attorney.
"Every now and then I represent somebody on other traffic violations and every now and then I represent somebody on other criminal violations, but its probably 85 percent DUI," he says. Breidenbach says not all crimes are "equal opportunity" but DUI cases are a "cross section of humanity – from rich to poor, male and female, educated and not educated, powerful and not so powerful. No one is immune."
Most crimes are committed after a person decides they will do the deed, he says, but DUI is different from other criminal offenses.
"How much do you have to have to drink before you have had too much to drink and drive a car?" he asks. "That is a rhetorical question. The answer, if you really think about it, is I don't know and no one knows. "People who have been drinking are in the worst possible position to assess their own ability to drive a car because if you believe all the propaganda put out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and by the state, your ability to assess the situation and to make judgment calls has been impaired.
"So, if you've had two beers, have you had too much to drink to drive a car? I don't know. I have seen people charged with a DUI who have blown a .04 (the state's intoxicated standard is .08). I have seen people charged with a DUI who have had nothing to drink and have told a police officer that 14 hours earlier they had taken a sleeping pill. "Others have used an antidepressant – are you immune from being charged with a DUI?" he asked. "No," is the simple answer. He says people can be charged with DUI for a lot of reasons, beyond actually being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. "Some get busted for a DUI because they were stopped for not having their lights on at night, some time if the windshield wipers are on and it hasn't be raining for a while," he said. It is up to the police officer. People may simply act unsure or confused because of a strange rental car or because they are lost on a street in a strange area and they can be charged with a DUI in this state and in most other states.
So why Internet Radio?
Why does an experienced lawyer, doing well in his private practice, experienced in handling his signature DUI cases, want to do something as rare and, as yet, often unheard of as Internet radio? Earlier this year, he began doing the radio broadcast on South King Media's regional blogs. As it is a new media, listeners are often few – from nine to over 100, but the media is expected to grow as people become familiar with it. That is how commercial radio and television started in the early 20th century. "If we have nine listeners now, we can have 900 a year from now and in two years from now we can have 9,000," Breidenbach says. "It is fun. I like it. "I am doing it because it makes me more of a high profile person in the community and when people go to hire an attorney, they are, hopefully, going to think of me before John Doe. I also really enjoy it and it gives me an opportunity to teach people something or to learn something about something they did not know before."
From 'tundra' to heaven
"I grew up in a small town about 20 miles south of Grand Forks, North Dakota," he says. He spent some of his early school years wintering in Florida – school months in Florida and the summer in North Dakota on the family farm.
He went to high school in the nearby small town of Reynolds and then to a Catholic high school in Grand Forks (population about 35,000, north of Fargo on the Red River). Breidenbach earned an economics degree at the University of North Dakota, also in Grand Forks.
"When I got out of undergraduate school – the day I finished my last final exam – I had every earthly belonging already packed in my car ... and drove off to Seattle, vowing never to go back to North Dakota again." He selected Seattle because his older brother lived in Bellevue and he liked the area. He thought he had found heaven – "after the great tundra of North Dakota" where wind chill temperatures in winter could hit 80 degrees below zero. But Seattle was in a recession. "I came here about the time they had the sign up that said 'the last person out should shut off the lights.' The only kind of job I could get was in sales which actually paid pretty well, but I didn't like sales," he says. So he decided on law school and ended up back at the University of North Dakota, and he returned to Washington right after graduating. His first lawyer job was in Aberdeen, and stayed there for about a year and a half, but the Puget Sound area still beckoned. First he took a job with a Burien law firm but soon opened his own office in Burien at 149 Southwest 154th Street and has been there ever since. "When I first opened my law office in Burien, I knew one person who lived in Burien and one person who worked in Burien," Breidenbach said. Now he knows a lot of people.
Experience led to 'DUI Joe'
At first, he took any case that came into the office, but that was stressful because each situation needed specific research.
"It just didn't make sense to turn down cases where I already had an expertise," he said, but was tired of taking criminal cases where defense services were paid for with public funds. "When you have clients that have enough money to hire you, you get a different caliber of clients than when you work in a public defender's office," Breidenbach said. "I am not suggesting that people who have to have a public defender's office have something wrong with them, individually. But as a group, they are a people with a lot of challenges – some too challenging for me." He gradually tightened his cases down to bankruptcies, divorces and criminal cases such as burglary. A change in the bankruptcy laws caused him to drop them because of the "tremendous amount" of paperwork involved. "Frankly I got tired of divorces," he says, because of the hassles involved. Some people are willing to make reasonable concessions to settle the matter, but others use the divorce as the last chance to "get even" with the spouse "they have decided they hate more than anything else in the world."
So Joe Breidenbach – DUI Joe – will be available to help those that run afoul of the law and will continue his opportunity to inform and entertain people on the newest form of public media: Internet Radio.
"The DUI Joe Show" airs every Thursday on SoKing Internet Radio, starting at Midnight, then 4 a.m., 8 a.m., Noon, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.