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State urged to buy portable DUI breath testers

Monday, December 15, 2008 3:00 AM


CLEVELAND — Advocates of a portable breath-testing device to detect alcohol are renewing their request for the state to spend $6.4 million to buy the machines, even as lawsuits challenging the Intoxilyzer 8000 continue around the country.

The state departments of Health and of Public Safety want the Ohio Controlling Board to approve spending for 700 machines at the board’s meeting today.

The panel approved the machines in November, then agreed to reconsider the order after learning that several states have questioned the accuracy of the device.

CMI Inc. says its Intoxilyzer 8000 machine is being used in about 10 states and is reliable.

In Arizona, a judge has ordered company and state officials to disclose the software that runs the machines by today to help answer questions about alleged errors.

Judge Deborah Bernini of Arizona Superior Court ruled earlier this year that 25 defendants charged with drunken driving after being tested by the Intoxilyzer 8000 need information about the software to defend themselves.

The state of Arizona has appealed the ruling.

In Florida, judges in two counties have ordered CMI to give up the software and are fining the Kentucky company each day it fails to comply.

Minnesota sued CMI in March, saying a contract the company signed allows the state to look at CMI’s software.

Ohio officials contend that the device has been tested under various temperature and climate conditions and passed. They note that the machine has been approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Ohio Department of Public Safety has reviewed lawsuits filed in other states and found no reason why Ohio shouldn’t move ahead, said Joshua Engel, the agency’s chief counsel.

CMI contends the lawsuits are part of an orchestrated tactic by defense lawyers nationally to stall drunken-driving cases.

The company says it would release the software information to anyone in Ohio willing to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

Defense lawyers say the agreement is too burdensome.

The company acknowledged that no one in the country has agreed to its terms.