The Case of the Bashful Kidney
Pity mild-mannered Michael Wolok. Since late August the 38-year-old free-lance futures trader hasn't dared venture forth in his rust-color Ford LTD. All his life, Wolok says, he's eschewed such vices as caffeine, alcohol, red meat, and marriage. Now, thanks to a "bashful kidney" and a run-in with a by-the-book state trooper, he is living without a driver's license.
Wolok, an amiable, green-eyed hedgehog of a man who belongs to the international high-IQ club MENSA, admits he stole the phrase "bashful kidney" from a recent Ann Landers column. But he claims he's always had the neurogenic bladder problem the name denotes: a consistent inability to pee in the presence of others. "I get tense when there's someone standing there," Wolok notes. "Even at department stores I have to use a stall."
Wolok's purported medical quirk only became a legal problem this past August 29. That night, sick with a cold, he dosed himself with several shots of NyQuil. Lonesome, he left his apartment on NE 191st Street and took I-95 to visit a friend. Near the Broward County line, Florida Highway Patrolman James Stuart noticed Wolok driving 67 mph in a 55 mph zone and pulled him over. He "was sweating profusely, his eyes were glassy, and when he spoke his voice was slurred," Stuart later wrote in his arrest report.
Shortly after midnight, Wolok arrived in handcuffs at the Miami Police Department South District substation at 2200 W. Flagler St., where officer Pedro Beltran introduced him to a CMI Inc. Intoxilyzer, Model 5000 Series, and Wolok began what he calls a "Kafkaesque nightmare." In the first of several acts that proved irritating to law enforcement officials, Wolok scored a 0.096 and 0.094 on the Intoxilyzer, slightly under the 0.1 considered sure proof of legal intoxication on the machine, which uses breath samples to gauge the percentage of alcohol in a person's bloodstream.
After considering the Intoxilyzer test results, Trooper Stuart asked Wolok to supply a urine sample so that another, more accurate chemical sobriety test could be conducted. And since Florida law requires the arresting officer to observe the production of such a sample, the highway patrolman accompanied Wolok into the bathroom.
"It went on for a long time," Wolok recalls. "I certainly wasn't going to say that I couldn't urinate, because that would cook me for sure. After a while [Stuart] let me go out in the hall and get a drink from the water fountain, but it was no use. I asked if I could run water in the sink, but he said that would disturb the people in the next room."
After nearly an hour of watching Wolok fail to produce, Stuart signed an affidavit saying his prisoner had refused to submit to the urine test. In accordance with the state's Implied Consent Law, Stuart summarily suspended Wolok's license for one year. He booked Wolok into the Dade County Jail. "They put me in a tiny cell packed like a sardine," Wolok recalls with a sniff. "With cold air from the air conditioner blowing all night." In the morning, without his driver's license as proof of identity, Wolok was at first unable to retrieve his impounded car. When he did, he says, he discovered his coin collection had been stolen from the trunk.
Last week in Dade County Traffic Court, officers Stuart and Beltran both acknowledged that Wolok had repeatedly asked for a blood test in place of the urine test. (Instead, aside from the urine test, he was offered and received a battery of field sobriety tests conducted by yet another Miami officer, Aida Nazario. A five-page report by the patrolwoman describes Wolok as "moody," "cooperative," "cocky," "very alert," allergic to "everything," and having consumed a meal of "crazy bread" the previous day. Nazario also acknowledged that Wolok offered to give a blood sample.) A blood test would have required taking Wolok to a hospital, a procedure usually reserved for suspected drunk drivers involved in serious accidents. "If you start doing it for everybody, you get a runaround," says Nazario, defending her decision. "Sometimes a guy will demand a blood test, you get to the hospital, and he decides he doesn't want it. Maybe he starts kicking the windows out in the unit. You have to call other units. It gets crazy, you know?"
The more the officers talked, the more Assistant State Attorney Adam Neijna seemed visibly to shrink and turn pale. At the last moment, having failed several times to get Wolok to plea bargain, Neijna tried to withdraw the case entirely. Instead Judge Robert Pineiro scolded the state for denying Wolok a blood test, and seemed to heave a sigh of relief to be done with the defendant. (Wolok represented himself in court, leaving no doubt that his putative inability to pee on command is matched only by his stubborn refusal to quit talking once he gets started.) "I think policy needs to be changed," Pineiro noted. "A lot of people can be trained to take blood, and everyone knows it's the most accurate test. Mr. Wolok, your DUI case is dismissed. Have you been to law school, sir? You haven't? Then I suggest you go to law school and make some law professor's life miserable."
But Wolok's December 31, 1991, victory was a Pyrrhic one. Despite convincing a court to drop the drunk-driving charges, he still lacks a driver's license. On December 19, an administrative hearing officer upheld Trooper Stuart's decision to suspend Wolok's license. Wolok has until January 19 to appeal the administrative review in district court. He vows to persevere.
"To me this incident is very embarrassing," Wolok says. "The only reason I'm willing to make it an issue is that I want the law to change. Do we want to make a law against drunk driving, or do we want to to make a law against people who can't always produce a urine sample? The consequences are not small, and the police should not be judge, jury, and executioner. It's hard to believe that because you don't feel comfortable indecently exposing yourself to a police officer you can lose your driving privileges."
Ed Birk, public information administrator for Florida's Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, won't say whether he thinks Wolok has a point to make. "The law is clear that the suspension of his license is an administrative procedure entirely separate from the criminal DUI process," Birk says. "While the case is pending, it wouldn't be proper for me to offer a comment on that. And the bashful kidney? This is the first I've heard of it.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.