MISSOULA -- An attorney who represents Helena Public Schools and other school districts around western Montana pleaded guilty to driving under the influence — her third such conviction — during her first court appearance Wednesday after being arrested earlier in the month.
Elizabeth Kaleva, 48, was charged after she crashed her SUV off Big Flat Road on Feb. 3, according to court documents. Officers who responded to the incident reported that Kaleva smelled of alcohol and told law enforcement she could not complete field sobriety tests because she was drunk, an affidavit filed with her charges stated. Kaleva’s initial citation indicates that she refused to take a breathalyzer test.
During her first court appearance Wednesday, Kaleva pleaded guilty to misdemeanors for driving under the influence and driving with expired registration, with court records saying her vehicle registration ended in October.
Her charging documents said Kaleva has prior DUI convictions in June 2013 and May 2005.
Kaleva and her Missoula law firm, Kaleva Law Office, specialize in education law and their clients include Missoula County Public Schools and Frenchtown School District. Recently the firm and Kaleva also have worked for Hamilton School District and Helena Public Schools.
Superintendent Jack Copps said the Helena school district has not yet determined whether to continue to employ Kaleva. He said he would like to see whether the State Bar of Montana weighs in.
"It came as a shock to us," Copps said.
Kaleva’s attorney Peter Lacny told Justice of the Peace Landee Holloway on Wednesday that Kaleva plans to begin a month of inpatient treatment on Thursday.
“I’m accepting responsibility and know that I have a problem,” Kaleva told the judge.
In making recommendations for sentencing, Lacny asked Holloway to impose the minimum sentence for a third DUI of one year in jail, suspending all but 30 days, and asked if she would consider allowing Kaleva’s treatment to count for the remaining month of unsuspended time.
Holloway asked if either of Kaleva’s previous DUI convictions included jail time. Lacny said they did not.
Chief deputy county attorney Jason Marks likewise recommended a year of jail, with all but a month suspended, but said he would defer to the judge on allowing treatment to count against the imposed jail time.
Holloway eventually ruled that if Kaleva completes her treatment, she would be allowed to count that as fulfilling 25 days of the imposed jail time, but that she still would need to schedule and complete another five days in custody at some point over the next six months.
“I have drawn a very hard line in this court in regards to jail time,” Holloway said.
In addition, Kaleva was fined $2,500 for the DUI, and an additional $50 for driving with expired registration, as well as various court fees and surcharges. She also will have alcohol monitoring during the year of suspended time of her sentence.
Holloway said after the mandatory 90 day suspension of her driver’s license is over, Kaleva can have a probationary license that will enable her to drive for a limited number of reasons.
Lacny said since her arrest, Kaleva obtained a chemical dependency evaluation and set up treatment and aftercare for herself, adding that he can't think of another client who has been so quick to truly accept responsibility.
“Ms. Kaleva realizes how serious this is ... I believe this situation has gotten her attention,” he said.