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Former prosecutor, accused of drunkenness, cites ‘Auto-Brewery Syndrome’ diagnosis


Former prosecutor, accused of drunkenness, cites ‘Auto-Brewery Syndrome’ diagnosis

Mar 27, 2023 | 6:17 pm ET
By Clark Kauffman
Former prosecutor, accused of drunkenness, cites ‘Auto-Brewery Syndrome’ diagnosis
A former prosecutor accused of being drunk at work says she has a rare condition that leads to intoxication without consuming alcohol. (Photo by Getty Images)

Dickinson County’s former top criminal prosecutor, accused of being “passed out” on more than one occasion while at work, has pleaded guilty to a charge of public intoxication.

Court records indicate former Dickinson County Attorney Amy Zenor appears to be claiming she’s afflicted with Auto-Brewery Syndrome, an exceptionally rare medical condition that causes a person to become intoxicated without consuming any alcohol.

In November 2022, Zenor was arrested and charged with being publicly intoxicated while at the county courthouse. Four weeks later, the Dickinson County Board of Supervisors accepted Zenor’s resignation.

Court records give no indication as to the events that led up to the arrest, but they state that a preliminary breath test showed Zenor’s blood-alcohol level was 0.195 percent, well above the 0.08 limit to operate a motor vehicle.

Last week, after pleading guilty to public intoxication, a simple misdemeanor, Zenor was fined $150.

On the same day Zenor was sentenced, her attorney filed an exhibit with the court that consists of a letter from an Ohio doctor, Anup Kanodia, who reviewed Zenor’s medical condition. Kanodia concluded the former prosecutor was afflicted with Auto-Brewery Syndrome, or ABS, a medical condition that is said to cause intoxication in people who haven’t consumed any alcohol.

People with ABS can become intoxicated when they ingest certain carbohydrates that ferment in their system along with intestinal yeast. According to some studies, fewer than 100 cases of ABS worldwide have been identified since 1952.

In her letter, Kanodia said Zenor was tested for ABS and the results were negative. However, Kanodia wrote, “we still have a high clinical suspicion she does, in fact, have ABS.” She cited tests that reportedly showed Zenor has “poor gut health” along with an unexplained presence of alcohol in her system.

“We ask that this serious condition be taken into consideration if any accidental intoxication occurs,” Kanodia wrote in her letter.

According to state records, the Iowa Attorney Disciplinary Board asked the Iowa Supreme Court in November to suspend Zenor’s license to practice law due to “a disability that prevents her from discharging the professional responsibilities associated with the practice of law.”

Zenor filed a written consent to the immediate suspension of her license, after which the court agreed to impose the sanction.

Harassment lawsuit makes intoxication claims

Currently, Zenor and Dickinson County are defendants in a lawsuit brought by Hillary Henningsen, a former employee of Zenor’s office who alleges she faced harassment and retaliation from Zenor and others at work because of her gender and her status as a pregnant woman.

On one occasion in late January 2020, the lawsuit alleges, Zenor brought a beverage container into work. The container allegedly was tested by an assistant county attorney for alcohol, with the results coming back positive.

The lawsuit alleges that both before and after Zenor took over as county attorney, Henningsen saw Zenor at work when she was “obviously under the influence of alcohol and to the point of inebriation.” Zenor also is alleged to have made comments about cases “which made no sense” while talking with Henningsen and others in the prosecutor’s office.

The lawsuit also alleges Zenor came into work while appearing “zoned out” and she “regularly forgot what she had told defense attorneys in criminal cases, and would deny having made plea deals that she had actually made earlier … In addition, Zenor was found passed out in her office a couple of times and one time was found passed out on the bathroom floor.”

Zenor has denied any wrongdoing in Henningsen’s termination. The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in September.