Profiteers from photo tickets, whether camera companies like ATS or Redflex, or the communities who plan on red-light and speed camera ticket revenue to prop up their budget deficits, would have you believe otherwise. They are waging an ongoing (and very cynical) effort to discourage photo ticket recipients from bothering to contest those citations.
What is their strategy? One needs to look no further than a new bill that has been introduced to the California State Assembly. This proposed legislation if enacted would require photo ticket cases across the state to be heard in administrative hearings rather than in courts of law. There are no due process rights afforded to defendants in an administrative hearing. Rulings are made by an employee on the city payroll, not by a real judge. Proponents of civil hearings want to eliminate legal challenges that would surface if the rules of evidence were followed.
In what can only be deemed delicious irony, the California bill was assigned the next number in sequence for the current legislative session and thus became designated AB 666. It didn’t take long before it gained the moniker “The Devil’s Bill.”
For a first-hand perspective of the insidious nature of administrative hearings, we checked in with Casey Raskob, a long-time traffic attorney and NMA member. In a couple of decades of walking the halls of traffic courts of New York City and surrounding areas, Casey has seen it all. Some of his observations regarding the inherent unfairness of administrative hearings:
“Administrative means they get to write their own rules, including burden of proof. Once the camera tickets are jurisdictionally moved out of Court, all the nice rules of Court, discovery rules, etc go away. Motions…sorry, we don’t have a “track” for motions….FOIA…maybe, but under the rules of the administrative court, no. This certification is enough, you don’t need to/are allowed to see the original records, nor can you subpoena the guy who claims to have signed them.
“In New York, camera tickets are “parking” tickets with no points, no insurance hits, just pay at the window on your way out . . . this means that they can suspend your registration for unpaid photo tickets, but with no points assigned or insurance premium adjustment, no one really bothers to challenge the process. They pay the under $200 fine and go away unhappy. We have a rule in NY that you need to be personally served with a summons to get points on a license. Making photo tickets like parking infractions meant that a streamlined system was well established since every jurisdiction already has a parking violations bureau or a parking ticket court calendar.
“I spend a lot of time in “Traffic Violations Bureau” in NYC. Unlike every other court in NY, NYC-TVB, an administrative agency and part of DMV and the Executive Branch, there are “no deals”….there is “no discovery”….there are “no Motions”…..you get a 7 minute trial where the cops say the same direct case over and over. Now, the same ticket in Justice Court allows motions, some discovery, and of course, deals. This is a denial of equal protection, BUT as TVB, unlike real court, cannot put you in Jail, our Court of Appeals has decided it is legitimate, as you are “only” dealing with a license/privilege, and you can’t take liberty, unlike the same accusation in Justice Court.
“This is a great backdoor way on the camera merchants behalf to remove headaches……they will seek to form a fake court, write their own rules, and you won’t be able to get into real court until you exhaust all administrative remedies. Then, the only thing a Court may check out is “did the agency follow THEIR OWN RULES”. All that case law….confrontation….due process….discovery…done away with by the stroke of a pen.
“California’s AB 666 is a follow-the-money bill. I don’t know how jammed their courts are with camera stuff in general…it has only been 20 years since I was in CA. Watch to see if the revenue stream is pulled out of “the court system”….I will bet that if they go administrative this would empower a whole money flow, outside the Court system where most of it ends up in “general revenues”, but now it will flow….where?”
So what do we need to do to reclaim the basic rights of traffic ticket recipients?
Most importantly, stop the legitimization of administrative hearings before it begins. In California, that means NMA members and civil rights activists alike getting out in full force to defeat AB 666. Our members should watch for upcoming NMA email alerts for more information on how and when to do this effectively.
In jurisdictions that are already treating photo tickets and other moving violations as local ordinance issues, voice your objections (and get your fellow citizens to do the same) to the people who can effect the necessary change – the city council, for instance.
Better yet, contact your area state representatives and get them involved. After all, states typically lose a significant share of the ticket revenue when the locals run routine traffic matters through administrative hearings. State officials have leverage over cities and counties on traffic matters that even the best grassroots protests rarely can muster.
It isn’t that we want the states to get their portion of traffic court bounty. But if the trade-off is giving drivers their fair day in a real court of justice with all of the attendant due process rights and privileges instead of herding them through a kangaroo hearing, that is an easy choice to make.