July 31, 1978 12:00 PM

Even the portly paladin of Proposition 13, Howard Jarvis, would have to admit that his victory was for naught if the state couldn’t reduce its spending by the $5 billion in property tax revenues his crusade will save his fellow Californians. But Jarvis’ indignation was more than theoretical over one particular $12,000 expenditure he pinpointed. That, Howard reckoned, was the cost to taxpayers of the two policemen, a pair of chemists, a county doctor, the deputy district attorney and the jury assigned to his week-long trial for drunken driving.

Last March, it seemed, the crusty 75-year-old had been stopped 30 miles north of Los Angeles by sheriff’s deputies who had noticed his car weaving in and out of traffic. “The only reason I took a blood test was that I didn’t want to have the headlines read: ‘Jarvis refuses test,’ ” grumbled Howard, who claimed he had downed only a vodka and orange juice before dinner and two cups of Kahlua-spiked coffee afterward.

The test, however, indicated his blood contained .06 percent alcohol—sufficient for prosecution under California law. But Jarvis suspected that the test results had been tampered with. After all, he reasoned, state employees were not exactly enamored over a forthcoming budget squeeze that could jeopardize their jobs. Yes, but what about the trouble Howard had reciting the alphabet at the time of his arrest? “I recited it up to ‘V,’ “he explained, “and the deputy said I said ‘C.’ I said, ‘horseshit.’ ” As for his fumbling failure of a roadside dexterity test—touching the tip of his nose with his index finger—Jarvis told an Oxnard, Calif. jury that years ago he had lost the tip of that finger in a printing press at one of the Utah newspapers he owned. But hadn’t he staggered in front of the law? “That’s a lot of bull. I was under a Nazi light. I don’t walk very good, and I stumbled over a three-inch piece of concrete.”

Even then Jarvis was still not finished explaining. His erratic driving, he said, was simply the evasive tactics he’d been taught to employ by security experts (off-duty LAPD) he’d hired. “I had been receiving a lot of threats,” he testified, “and they told me to slow down if I thought I saw a suspicious car, and to change lanes to let the car pass.”

After two days of deliberation the jury of Jarvis’ peers was hung (11 to 1 in favor of acquittal) and the drunk driving charges were dropped, sparing him a possible jail term. But he was fined $40 for driving with an expired license. Was Howard relieved? “I really expected a verdict in 15 minutes,” he scoffed.

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