I had a conversation yesterday that reminded me of an article I wrote several years ago. I thought you might enjoy as well:
The old proverb says, “The man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.” I have proven the sagacity of these words on more than one occasion. All of my prior experience had been in traffic court until this week when I branched out into civil court. I don’t mean to brag, but my record in traffic court would compare with Johnny Cochran or even that “Texas Hammer” guy who is always screaming on the TV.
A few weeks ago, I received a notice in the mail that a van, registered to me as the owner, was photographed running through an intersection while the traffic light was red. There was even a picture of the van, with an enlargement of the license plate. Sure enough, it is a van that I own. According to the letter, the evidence is irrefutable, so I should just send them $75.
I was given two other options, neither of which fit my circumstances. I could show proof that I no longer owned the vehicle, or if I was not the driver of the vehicle, then I could provide the name of the driver so the fine could be levied against them. If I should be so foolish I could also request a hearing. You guessed it; I asked for my day in court.
About a week later I received a phone call, not from the police or the municipal court, but from a woman who works for the red light camera company. Her stated purpose was to help me out. Her real purpose was to talk me out of my $75. I explained that I was not the driver of the van. In fact, because of my physical condition, I am unable to drive that particular vehicle. I can’t even get in the van.
She did not dispute my claim, but assured me that I could resolve the issue by naming the driver. I indicated to her that the time of the infraction was five-thirty in the morning, and I was doing what I am doing every morning at that time–sleeping. Obviously I could not identify the driver of a vehicle forty miles from my house at a time when I was in bed.
After she came to the end of her patience, she scheduled a date for me appear in court. At this point it is obvious to me that this traffic violation (actually I was assured that it is not a traffic violation, but a civil matter) has nothing to do with safety. It is all about the money. I discovered later that the city of Farmers Branch does not receive any of this money. A percentage goes to the state, and the remainder is kept by the Red Light Camera company. Once the camera is paid for the city will get a small percentage. Since it has already been in operation eight months, and no money has found its way to the city coffers, it does not look very promising.
So, last week I went to court. Apparently there is not a ground swell of protest against these cameras since I was the only one in the whole court building. A bailiff found a judge who donned his robe just for me. After swearing my honesty, I was shown a video of my van running a red light. At that point I was given the opportunity to speak.
I conceded the fact that my van ran a red light. However, I explained that it was impossible for me to drive that van. They readily accepted the fact since I was in a wheelchair, and insisted that I identify the driver. Again, since it occurred at a time when I was in bed, I told them that I was unable to do so since I was under oath. I could not provide information I did not have. The judge claimed that I was liable since it was my vehicle, and we argued back and forth for fifteen minutes. Even the bailiff piped up a few times but none of us was willing to budge.
Here is the crux of their position. The owner of a vehicle is responsible for the actions of a vehicle. In my mind, there is a significant flaw in their logic. If my vehicle is speeding down the highway, they don’t give me a speeding ticket, even if they cannot locate the one driving. How am I able to control how others utilize inanimate objects, even those that I own? I certainly should take care of my stuff, but I can’t be expected to control how it is used by others. I guess I could lock the van in the garage, and not let anyone drive it. The bailiff actually suggested that I should not own a vehicle I cannot drive, but once he realized the foolishness of that statement he quieted down.
My day in court ended with the judge realizing that I was not going to be convinced, so he explained how I could appeal his decision. I am not sure what I will do. It has been fun, in a stubborn way, but it may not be worth the effort. One of my favorite pastimes has always been to challenge people’s thinking, especially when they become too comfortable. However, I may have already milked this thing for $75 worth of fun.
This experience happened in October of 2007. I did not go to the trouble of appealing the decision, nor did I pay the fine. I totally ignored it until the Red Light Camera company sent my name to a collection agency. Remember, this is a civil matter, not legal. Each time they called I reminded them that I had no intention of paying the $75.
I received one of these calls one day when I had a few minutes, and was feeling especially cantankerous. After I told the man I would not be paying the fine, he advised they would keep calling until I did. I decided to be proactive. I began to call them. I called every hour, advising them that I still had no intention of paying. At lunchtime I even called to tell them I would be unavailable for about an hour and a half, but would call when I returned, which I did.
This went on for most of the afternoon until the collection company’s owner called to ask what I was doing. I recounted the whole story for him, and once again stated I would not be paying the fine. That is the last I heard from them.
I don’t know if there is a moral to this story. It was simply my attempt to take a stand for what I thought was right. I was able to present my case to several people without being mean or hateful. Even the bailiff, who suggested I shouldn’t own a car I can’t drive, went out of his way to hold the door for me as I left the building.