Day of reckoning: Michelle Bridges, 49, was today forced to accept she wasn’t ‘special’ in the eyes of the law – but just another drink driver
It was the day Michelle Bridges, celebrity fitness guru and TV star, was forced to accept that she wasn’t ‘special’ in the eyes of the law – but just another drink driver.
Bridges, 49, brought celebrity glamour, a supportive entourage and legal firepower to a drab courtroom in Sydney’s east on Tuesday.
It was judgment day for the former Biggest Loser trainer, and she was hoping to escape a conviction for mid-range drink driving.
But even wheeling out a heavyweight defence barrister – who insisted she was a ‘special case’, quoted Shakespeare and regaled the court of her achievements – couldn’t win her leniency.
Bridges’ predicament began with a glass of wine with dinner about 8pm on January 25, the court has heard.
She drank quite a bit afterwards – four vodka sodas, all apparently at home – before finishing up at 1am the next day, Australia Day. She rose that morning and took her son, five, to Nielsen Park beach, not far from her Potts Point home.
The incident came while the former Biggest Loser star was reckoning with the collapse her relationship with Steve ‘Commando’ Willis
Bridges (second from right) rose to fame with The Biggest Loser co-stars Shannan Ponton, Tiffiny Hall and ‘the Commando’ – her former lover
Bridges was driving home at 11.25am when officers at a roadside breath stop noticed her Range Rover broke suddenly and veered into the second lane of New South Head Road.
Police decided to pull Bridges over. When she wound the window down, police noticed the fitness star appeared ‘nervous’. Her hands were shaking, voice was trembling and face was flushed, court documents said.
The glamorous fitness trainer never suggested she was anything but guilty to the offence – proof, her lawyer claimed, that she was a ‘straight shooter’
The 12 Week Body Transformation founder claimed she had a swirl of mouth wash about five minutes before she was pulled over.
But officers observed she seemed ‘mildly affected’ by alcohol, she admitted drinking ‘last night’ and she failed the test.
Back at the police station, the wiry fitness queen admitted she had actually drank quite a lot, a statement of facts said.
It wasn’t long after a criminal charge was laid that the incident hit the headlines.
Bridges, to her credit, never suggested that she was anything but guilty.
She revealed she had been going through a ‘difficult time’, having just split with her high profile boyfriend, Steve ‘The Commando’ Willis, who she met on The Biggest Loser. That had apparently played a part in her heavy drinking.
She admitted her shame and embarrassment and suffered a terrible blow to her wholesome public image.
It was shame she relived again on Tuesday as she walked the media gauntlet at Waverley Court.
The stress was written all over Bridges’ face as she leaped out of a car about 9.15am.
She powered past at least a dozen media – cameras in her face, clicking and flashing.
Time to face the music: A magistrate told celebrity fitness trainer Michelle Bridges what she didn’t want to hear on Tuesday – she wasn’t getting leniency, and would be convicted
Once inside, she, her lawyers and three supporters huddled in a conference room all morning, even through the court’s lunchbreak.
‘This is a special case
Michelle Bridges’ lawyer, Queen’s Counsel Tony Bellanto
Her lawyers were trying to secure her time a magistrate who would knock the case over in an afternoon and bring her month-long nightmare to an end.
About 2pm, it was Bridges’ turn to face the music.
She strode into the main court of the small complex, and sat in the front row in a black suit, next to her lawyer. Metres away sat other people accused of similarly serious, but low-level crimes. None appeared to have lawyers with them – let alone a QC.
From the beginning, it was clear Bridges had an uphill battle asking the court for leniency.
Tony Bellanto QC told Magistrate Allison Hawkins – newly minted, fresh from the bar – that Bridges’ crime, which she was pleading guilty to, had ‘cut to (her) core’. He pleaded with the magistrate for leniency, saying a conviction for Bridges would be a ‘scar on the record for the rest of her life.’
The drink driving charge is a rare moment of humiliation for Bridges, who has gained national fame as a celebrity fitness guru
‘She’s a good mother, she’s hardworking’, he said. She had contributed so much to the community, he said.
He cited an extraordinary statistic in his submissions: ‘Over 10 years, she is responsible for the Australian public losing two million kilograms in weight,’ he said. ‘Now that is powerful. ‘
Meanwhile, he argued, Bridges had written a letter of apology to the court and was remorseful. She had learned so much from completing a program for traffic offenders.
She could be an ‘advocate for change’ thanks to her new understanding of drink driving, Mr Bellanto said. She was ‘entitled’ to leniency from the court ‘given her capacity to make a difference’, he argued.
But Magistrate Hawkins said the ‘absolute majority’ of cases like Bridges’ – mid-range drink drivers – were convicted.
‘So why should I not record a conviction in this case?’ she asked, ‘considering there is a child in the car – which increases the objective seriousness of the case?’
‘This is a special case, she’s a rather special type of person,’ Mr Bellanto said – drawing a sharp question from the magistrate.
‘Are you advancing there is a “special tier” of justice to a person who has a special standing in the community?’ she asked.
A middle-aged man sitting in the public gallery muttered: ‘Of course there is’.
If a person is a person of good character … it’s like money in the bank
Bridges’ lawyer Tony Bellanto QC
But Mr Bellanto had a more eloquent answer – that Bridges was of good character and that meant something in the justice system.
‘If a person is a person of good character ….. (it’s) like money in the bank, the law says you’re entitled to draw on that.’
But Ms Hawkins said she was bound by law to balance a person’s good character with the community’s expectation that actions come with consequences.
Mr Bellanto – who was admitted as a lawyer in 1967 – closed his submissions by drawing on the work of playwright William Shakespeare.
‘Oftentimes excusing of a fault, Doth make the fault the worse by the excuse,’ he said, quoting the play The Life and Death of King John.
The police prosecutor then only had one thing to say to the court: was the magistrate considering not handing Bridges a conviction?
Ms Hawkins was blunt. ‘No, I’m not,’ she said, and ordered the fitness guru to stand up.
Magistrate Hawkins said she accepted Bridges was genuinely remorseful.
But she warned Bridges that the fact she was going through a relationship breakdown would be cold comfort if she had she injured someone in an accident.
She convicted Bridges, fined her $750, disqualified her licence for three months and ordered she install an alcohol interlock device on her car.
Bridges huddled with her supporters and then left the courtroom. She was just another drink driver to pass through Waverley Court – but one nonetheless expected to make a tearful statement to the media.
Tearfully, she told a media pack: ‘I would like to apologise to my family, friends and community for this gross error in judgment,’ she said.
‘The consequences of these actions will haunt me forever.’
She then jumped into a waiting car.
Someone else was driving.
Michelle Bridges begs for leniency for ‘helping Australians lose two million kilograms’ as she pleads GUILTY to drink driving after blowing 0.086 in her Range Rover with her son, 5, in the car
Bridges said she was having a ‘difficult time’ following her break-up Commando (together, above) when the incident occurred
Former Biggest Loser star and celebrity trainer Michelle Bridges has pleaded guilty to drink driving.
Bridges, 49, was convicted of the criminal offence in court on Tuesday, despite her legal team arguing she had a ‘special case’.
The fitness guru blew 0.086 when she was pulled over in her Range Rover with her five-year-old son in the car, at about 11.25am on Australia Day, as she drove through Bellevue Hill, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
But her legal representative Tony Bellanto QC argued she should not be convicted, citing the ‘millions of kilograms’ she has helped Australians shed.
‘Over 10 years she is responsible for the Australian public losing two million kilograms in weight,’ Mr Bellatoni told the court during sentencing.
‘Now that’s powerful – two million kilograms over ten years.’
‘A conviction would act as a ‘scar on her record for the rest of her life … when in fact she’s a good mother, she’s hardworking and this has had a most profound effect on her life,’ he said.
‘It’s a special case, she’s a special person’.
Magistrate Allison Hawkins rebuked the submission saying ‘Are you advancing that there is a special tier of justice to a person who has special standing in the community?’
The magistrate said while she appreciated Bridges had been humiliated, the fact she had been going through a tough time would have been cold comfort to victims had she had an accident.
HOW MICHELLE BRIDHES CLAIMS SHE BLEW 0.086 AT 11.25AM
Bridges claims it was four vodka sodas, a glass of wine and a swirl of mouthwash that put her over the limit.
In a police statement of facts, officers said Bridges was driving her son home from the beach at Nielsen Park when police her ‘break suddenly and change lanes’.
When police approached her vehicle, Bridges ‘appeared nervous, her hands were shaking and her voice was trembling. Her face was flushed.’
Bridges told officers she had ‘used mouth wash within five minutes before being stopped and stated she had consumed alcohol ‘last night’.
During a later police interview, Bridges told officers she had drunk a glass of wine with dinner followed by four vodka sodas between 8pm on January 25 and 1am on the day she was caught.