NMA Email Newsletter: Issue #66

Relearning Old Lessons

By Jim Baxter, NMA President

Here is a tale of chagrin. Anyone who has come to the NMA to get help with a traffic ticket, which is almost everyone who joins the organization these days, has heard or read our constant refrain “when corresponding with courthouse personnel always use some sort of certifiable mail; certified, registered, receipt required or UPS or Fed Express. In reality, while this is good advice, almost all the time a good “ole” first class stamp is sufficient and a lot cheaper.

While the system itself is corrupt and self-serving most of the people in it are normal people who are not going to sabotage someone’s case by “losing” an important letter or required form. (Twice my wife left her purse in a cart in the Walmart parking lot and both times it was picked up, taken to the store and she retrieved it without so much as a penny missing. I left my wallet on a restaurant counter one morning and a stranger picked it up, knew where I worked and brought it to me, nothing missing. What I’m suggesting here is that despite what we read and hear, most people are pretty decent and honest.)

Last February the same wife got a speeding ticket in a small town 30 miles distant from where we live. Not a big deal, typical small town speed trap, snaring the non-locals on a big wide four lane main street with no traffic, no people and one cop. Sixty MPH would have been safe under the prevailing conditions, it was posted at 25.

The fine was modest, but it involved a significant number of points. It would have been a lot less expensive and far less stressful to just pay the ticket and resolve to not do any business in that town. Maybe write a letter to the local Chamber of Commerce and the local newspaper. But, she is stuck being married to me and we can’t be telling the rest of the world to fight their tickets and not follow our own call to arms. Also she was hot, frustrated and upset about getting ripped for speeding when she wasn’t speeding.

She (we) sent in the “not guilty” plea (first class stamp, no problem). We decided to take advantage of a state law that allows defendants in municipal courts to request one judge substitution, which in effect would move the trial to a different court, one that wouldn’t be profiting from the prosecution. We sent that letter to the court, first class letter, and soon thereafter sent in a Request for Discovery. With the Request for Discovery we enclosed a copy of the judge substitution letter. The Request for Discovery was categorically denied (Discovery not allowed in Municipal Court?) So we sent in a Motion to Compel Discovery—and a deathly silence settled over the land—metaphorically speaking.

We waited until a week before the trial date and finally called the court clerk to find out what happened to our Motion to Compel Discovery. The Motion was going to be looked at the following day. While we were at it “what’s happening to our judge substitution situation?” The clerk says ” I did some reference to that in your recent letter, but we didn’t receive any letter within the seven day time frame required by law, to require a change in judge.” Uh huh. Multiple mentions of the judge substitution and a copy of the request residing with the Village Attorney, but they never got our letter (it was never returned to us, despite a prominent return address).

Long story short, my wife was denied the judge substitution because the court said no such request was received and we didn’t have proof it was sent or received. We won’t make that mistake again—and don’t you make it either. Not everybody returns purses and wallets.

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