It was finally my day in court. This ridiculous situation would finally be resolved. Knowing I was at the mercy of the judge’s whims, I waited among fifteen other defendants at 8:30 am with my packet of legal documentation and praying to the universe for justice.
Of the 15 pleading their cases, at least 5 or 6 maybe more were there to contest the Redflex camera catching them turning right on red without a long enough stop. My hopes quickly diminished after each one presented their arguments only to be swiftly found guilty. A woman with a leopard print shawl and heavy mascara cried on the waiting bench after sentencing while the man after her received the same decision. She would pay $589, $530 for the initial ticket and $59 for traffic school to remove the point from her license. She had been in the middle of a three car caravan shuttling kids on a field trip. The first car had made it through the yellow light but she got stuck with the red and probably didn’t want to lose her party.
The man after her pleaded his case in hopes of a reduction. He hadn’t had a moving violation in over 30 years and he had been driving his injured wife to visit her mother in a senior facility. The judge refused to consider any reduction and he would pay $490, refusing to go to traffic school based on the shear absurdity of the charge.
Judge Dawn Girard was a very no nonsense sort of woman, short and stocky under her heavy robes with dark rimmed glasses and pulled back thinning blonde frizzy hair. I can only stipulate she has been hardened by years of listening to angry and unreasonable excuses that she can no longer detect the truth. If it were otherwise, it was never really about justice.
I listened intently to Paul Cirolia, the Oakland Police Officer that reviewed the Redflex violations, as he read each person’s nearly identical citation. Oddly enough, I would be the only defendant that did not own a Mercedes, BMW, or Hummer. The large crack in the back bummer of my Ford Escort was visible in the photo of my license plate and if only there was sound recorded on the video, the court would hear a chainsaw in the shape of a car going down the road.
Considering how many guilty verdicts were rolling off the bench, I didn’t have much hope. I crawled up to the defendant’s chair and grew numb as I half listened to the evidence against me. There was a short pause when he finished and the judge asked me what I would like to say. I had almost completely shut down. But I started right in as though this whole situation didn’t infuriate me too much to speak my mind.
I said, “As I’ve watched the other cases this morning, it seems clear that it doesn’t matter what excuse I give you. I’m not here to contest the violation. I’m here because $490 is beyond exorbitant for this violation. I’m new to California and this experience has given me the opportunity to learn about these cameras. The legality of them is highly controversial and the legislation itself expressly says that the city can not use these systems with the motivation of revenue generation, yet I have a document showing that this is exactly what is happening. $490 is more than a month’s rent, more than my student loan, more than my car is likely worth…”
She cut me off, “You can stop right there. How’s 49 hours of community service.” I replied with a big smile, “Sold! I’ll take it,” and took my seat on the waiting bench.
I like to think the hours of reading over legal documents gave me the 30 second response I needed to get what I needed. It was a small victory but it was better than no victory at all. This judge didn’t let anybody go with any leniency. I would be keeping the small amount of money I do have and community service was actually something I looked forward to. There are thousands of organizations that need volunteers and I would have my pick. I’m still working out which I’ll be participating with but I imagine I’ll be spending my Saturdays digging holes and planting trees or weeding and watering plants at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden.
By principle, I’m still offended that these guilty verdicts are still occurring. In the afternoon, another series of individuals with the same offense were found guilty and asked to pay the fine. I would love to see how much money the city made just in that one day in that one room on these offenses alone. As I understand, the afternoon group is getting together their resources and planning to appeal. The Court of Appeals will give them more of a chance to get past these charges as there are several precedents that are starting to unmask the layers of corruption coming off these Redflex cameras.