- Associated Press - Thursday, December 18, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - A Democratic state senator charged with drunken driving after a party at the state Capitol pleaded no contest Thursday to a reduced charge of alcohol-related reckless driving.

Sen. Ben Hueso of San Diego was sentenced to three years of informal probation, ordered to participate in a six-week alcohol education program, and fined $240 plus penalties, Sacramento County prosecutors said.

Fees and other penalties will add substantially to the fine.

The arrest of Hueso came while the state Senate was already under scrutiny as three other Democrats faced more serious criminal charges. One resigned after being sentenced for lying about his residency, while two others were suspended after they were charged in separate federal corruption cases.

Hueso, a San Diego Democrat, was initially charged with two misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence and driving with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher after a California Highway Patrol officer spotted him driving the wrong way on a downtown Sacramento street in August.

He pleaded no contest in Sacramento County Superior Court to the lesser offense of alcohol-related reckless driving.

Prosecutors previously said they typically allow such a reduced plea for a first-time offender such as Hueso, particularly since his blood-alcohol level was right at the legal limit.

“I just know he’s accepting responsibility for his conduct,” Hueso’s attorney, Margaret Ann Virga, said after the hearing. She referred requests for further comment to Hueso’s Senate spokeswoman, Lourdes Jimenez, who did not respond to telephone and email messages.

Hueso, 45, had initially told reporters that he was “going to pursue my innocence.”

By pleading no contest to the lesser charge, Hueso avoids the standard DUI requirement that he serve 48 hours in jail, while the fine and alcohol education programs are about half of what would have been required.

The lesser offense still counts as a prior DUI if he is ever convicted of a second offense. A no contest plea carries the same legal effect as a conviction for sentencing but couldn’t be used against Hueso if there were a civil lawsuit.

Before his arrest at 2:39 a.m., he and other lawmakers were photographed drinking in the Capitol after a dinner for the California Latino Legislative Caucus.

Hueso was re-elected to the state Senate last month.

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