Brutal review of San Diego traffic court

George Mitrovich is having none of San Diego traffic court:

Have you been to Traffic Court? Let me presume you haven’t. Great. Because you don’t want to go there. You will lose. The system is set up for you to lose. And, as systems go, this one is virtually fail safe.

Absent seeing an in-depth study of cases that come before Traffic Court, which I doubt exists, because it’s not a media thing, the odds of you winning are 99-1.

In conversations with attorneys, I have yet to find one who thinks my 99-1 odds are wrong. But let’s say I am slightly wrong, that the odds of a citizen winning in Traffic Court are 90-1 or even 80-1, does that change the inherent inequity? No.

The Traffic Court is the gift that keeps on giving to San Diego. Income derived by the city from fines and penalties in fiscal year 2014 was projected at $29.3 million. In a city with budget issues, $29.3 million, even if only 2.5 percent of the city’s total budget, is hardly insignificant.

And, there are additional benefits derived, specifically by police officers who are paid time and a half while in court – and to me police are always, “officers”, never “cops”, which I deem derogatory.

If police officers are to be paid time and a half, let them be paid time and a half while on active duty, not sitting around Traffic Court waiting for their case to be called; there is sufficient danger for police on the streets – but not likely in Traffic Court.

And no, this isn’t about me, but someone I know who carefully prepared their defense on a traffic violation; a defense with video evidence against the issuing officer, quickly dismissed by the hearing officer at Traffic Court.

The individual who dared to contest the citation was in court for nearly three hours before being heard and dismissed in minutes, guilty as charged. The city had its money. The police officer his time and a half. The citizen was out $332.

In this case there is cause to believe the police officer was not wholly forthcoming in his testimony; a polite way of saying he probably lied about where his black and white was when he decided a traffic violation occurred – a red light infraction on a right hand turn signal, mind you.

Thus I am weighing whether to file, as allowed by California Law, a public records request with the Traffic Court to investigate the ratio of citizens’ success in having their cases dismissed – and specifically to file for the records of the hearing commissioner in the case described, and other cases that commissioner has heard.

If I find I’m wrong, that the ratio isn’t 99-1, that it’s only 90-1 or 80-1, because fair is fair, and I’m nothing if not fair, I will duly report same – and apologize.

(There is a Web site devoted to helping citizens fight traffic courts. It claims to have helped more than 300,000 Californians alone. It’s worth checking out:

I will end this by disclosing that I was stopped on a Saturday morning in Kensington, not by one, but two black and white police cars. Yes, that is not a misprint, not one black and white, but two (did you know Kensington is a high crime area, I live there and didn’t.)

The officer approached. I rolled down my window. He asked, was I using my cell phone? “No.” “Do you mind if I look at your cell phone?” I wasn’t required to comply, but knowing I had not been talking and driving, I handed it over. He looked at it, seeing no record of a recent call, told me that obviously I had deleted the call. That was irritating

So I told him I had indeed been talking, that while driving I often use the time to practice my remarks for speeches or sermons. I then told him I was speaking that afternoon at the ordination into the Christian ministry of a dear and beloved friend –
Herb Johnson of the San Diego Rescue Mission – and was practicing what I hoped to say on that Holy occasion.

He clearly did not believe me. Annoyed, yes, I was annoyed, it’s an Irish/Serbian thing, I told him, “Officer, you have two choices. Either believe me or write the ticket.” He wrote the ticket.

That was his mistake.

When the case finally came to trial in Traffic Court on Clairemont Mesa Blvd. (you know that ugly, hideous building, with its hearing rooms in trailers), I was prepared.
I had my phone records from Verizon, proving I had not been talking on my cell phone.

The hearing commissioner heard the policeman state his reasons for the citation, and having reviewed my evidence, quickly said, “You have failed to prove your case. I find in the defendant’s behalf.”

Was I elated “justice was served?”

Hardly, I knew I had not been talking on my cell phone, but the police officer, too arrogant and too cynical by half, having stopped me, flashing red lights and all, felt he had to write the ticket.

Even now, three years later, thinking about it while composing these words, it still annoys, even though on the day of the hearing, I had been exceedingly polite to the young officer, because that’s me, but politeness is not what he deserved.

Yes, I won and the cop deservedly lost. But in Traffic Court that day, he was being paid time and a half. No one was paying me for my nearly four lost hours.

Democracy is a great thing. Maybe someday it will come to San Diego’s traffic court.

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader. He may be reached at,

Original article

Sending full bail with plea no longer required (sort of)

Up until now, the rule was you have to send the full bail amount of your ticket when contesting either by mail or in person; they won’t talk to you unless you FIRST pay the full amount.

On June 8, 2015, the California Judicial Council (the people who make the rules for the courts) ruled unanimously that courts can no longer require full bail when people submit their not-guilty plea.  So, they are no longer allowed to make that requirement:

“The system is broken,” said Christine Sun, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. “It has become clear that we are funding our judicial system through unfair fines and fees that act as a hidden tax on poor people — who may not be able to afford contesting their citation — and people of color, who are disproportionately pulled over and cited. This has to stop, and we’re pleased that the Judicial Council is taking action.”

Interestingly, some Ticket Assassin members have been told by court clerks that the ruling doesn’t take effect until September 15.

As is often the case, the court clerks are full of shit.  From the Mercury News:  

The new ban on this practice takes effect immediately, though courts have until Sept. 15 to ensure their forms, written instructions and websites comply with notification requirements.”

From the Napa Valley Register:

The Judicial Council’s decision takes effect immediately, and also requires courts to notify traffic defendants that they don’t have to make the payments to appear in court in any instructions or other materials they provide to the public.

Courts are facing a deadline to update their forms. But court clerks are telling ticketed motorists members is that until the form is updated, the requirement is still there. Horseapples.  The requirement is no longer there, as of June 8 2015, per the California Judicial Council.

Bottom line:

You can pay the full bail if you want to avoid a fight. You’ll get the money back if you are found not guilty. Or, you can stand up for yourself and insist the court follow their own god damn rules. It’s up to you.

This goes away on September 15 – just five weeks from now. As such, the Ticket Assassin doesn’t want to die on this particular hill – he believes in picking his battles.

Good luck. Let us know what you do and how it turns out.


It’s perfectly legal to use the map on your phone while driving

This ruling on cell phone GPS was handed down in February of 2014:

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Drivers in California can legally read a map on their hand-held cellphones while behind the wheel, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.

The 5th District Court of Appeal reversed the case of a Fresno man who was ticketed in January 2012 for looking at a map on his iPhone 4 while stuck in traffic. The driver, Steven Spriggs, challenged the $165 fine.

Like I said – it was handed down at the beginning of last year, but cops are still handing out tickets to people looking at the map on their phones. We get members every day who need to defend themselves against this bogus ticket.  RESIST.

The unholy intersection of Chicago politics and automated enforcement

Unbelievably scummy.

CHICAGO – A request by the city of Chicago to toss a lawsuit challenging the fairness and constitutionality of its controversial red light camera program was denied by a Cook County judge.

The lawsuit alleges the city has issued more than $500 million in tickets under a program that wasn’t properly authorized by state lawmakers, the Chicago Tribune reported. It also accuses the city of issuing millions of tickets when yellow light times were too short at intersections equipped with red light cameras.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration, which argues the city has acted lawfully, asked Circuit Judge Rita Novak to dismiss the most recent in a series of similar lawsuits.

But Novak ruled on Thursday that the motorists who have been ticketed deserve their day in court. Although she said she understands the city’s concerns about being “subject to the same claims over and over,” Novak denied the request because the plaintiffs named in this case are new.

That’s the backstory. Here’s the money quote from the article:

On Thursday, Keating argued in court that the yellow light times of “up to half of all red light camera tickets issued . were in fact below three seconds,” as a result of the way traffic lights are set. The city has argued that it’s not legally bound to the 3-second minimum listed in federal guidelines.

Install a red light camera at an intersection.  Shorten the yellow light times so that more motorists find themselves hitting red lights. Ignore the fact that these shortened yellow light times are below the Federal guidelines, which say yellow light times should be about one second for each mile per hour, divided by ten. Rake in the cash from motorists.  I guess that’s how it works in Chicago.


Columbus riased red light camera fees to pay for more police cars

Another nail in Redflex’s coffin. Or, at least, it should be. We shall see.

10 Investigates gets new documents showing profit drive of red light camera company

Lobbyist under FBI bribery investigation more involved than previously known

Columbus fought for additional ticket profit to buy more police cars.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – State lawmakers effectively banned Red light cameras this year. They believed the cameras were about making money for cities and companies through fines. Columbus city leaders including Mayor Michael Coleman and Council President Andrew Ginther defended the red light cameras for saving lives. Documents obtained by 10 Investigates show how there was a lot of focus on money.

When attempting to convince Columbus not to switch vendors in 2009, Redflex said the risk of dumping them was a “huge opportunity cost for (the) city to risk upsetting a well-run and profitable program.”

The city also fought to keep their share of the fine money high, saying they needed it to buy patrol cars and fund programs.

These people are the worst.



Bicycles, Rolling Stops, and the Idaho Stop

I would like to see the Idaho Stop become part of the California vehicle code.  Idaho has had such a law since 1982, resulting in a decrease in bicycle collisions with cars causing injuries or deaths, according to some studies.  Right now, we have restrictive bike laws that are rarely enforced, which creates a terribly unsafe and unfair situation for cyclists.

The fish rots from the head down


It’s no secret we think automated enforcement is illegal and a corrupt manifestation of government overreach. We’ve been banging that drum since we started the Ticket Assassin back in 1998. So, it’s nice to get some vindication:

Karen Finley, former CEO of the Phoenix-based Redflex Traffic Systems, pleaded guilty today in federal court to an eight-year bribery-and-fraud scheme that helped the company retain photo-enforcement contracts with two Ohio cities.

Finley, 55, of Cave Creek, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Terence P. Kemp of the Southern District of Ohio to a charge of “conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery and honest services wire and mail fraud,” the U.S. Department of Justice announced this morning.

She obvious takeaway is that these red light camera ticket companies like Redflex are more corrupt than Florida Governor Rick Scott.

It’s the thought that counts

Don’t make fun of me for seeing this in Woman’s Day. It comes by way of a Google News Alert. Sheesh, you people.

Nobody wants to receive a speeding ticket, but Reddit user CapnHammered managed to turn the experience into a very cute, instantly viral moment.

The driver was ordered to pay a fine after driving 35mph in a 30mph zone in Lincolnshire in England. (He lives near Birmingham, but he was visiting his girlfriend in the area.) Since letter writing is such a lost art these days, he didn’t have many envelope options to send in the fine.

What did he end up using? A colorful Disney envelope with the characters of Bambi and Thumper on it. Aww! To go along with the cute theme, he made sure his penmanship was equally sweet, and he drew hearts on top of each letter i. Nice touch!