Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Upholding the Law" or Simply Theft by Other Means?

Terrified of openly asking the citizenry to pay higher taxes for their services, local government has sought to boost revenue by raising junk fees and what amounts to "theft by other means"--absurdly costly traffic fines.

Correspondent J.D.G. provides us a detailed window into the tawdry world of local government's abuse of authority and unspoken collusion of law enforcement and judiciary to raise revenues without actually presenting the citizens a choice in the matter.

If we actually lived in a nation with "taxation with representation" rather than a multilayered kleptocracy (the Power Elite and State partnership), the local government would come hat in hand to the taxpayers and lay it all out: here is why we need X millions of dollars to provide the services you want, and all costs are presented in detail.

In the real world, newspapers have to sue to obtain the pension records of public employees. Now some pensioners object to the release of the information as a violation of privacy, and I agree: but the size of the pension and their position should be in the public record (their name need not be listed). To deny the taxpayers access to records of where their taxes have gone based on privacy is a red herring.

Access to pension payments on trial:

In other court papers, Olson pointed out that a public safety employee who retires at 50 could draw as much as $3 million in pension payments during the next 35 years.

In Contra Costa County, Moraga-Orinda Fire Chief Peter Nowicki, draws an annual pension of $241,000 yearly although his top salary was roughly $185,000. The fire district hired Nowicki back as interim chief with a $174,000 contract while drawing the pension.

Let's also dispense with the illusion that a furlough is an actual pay cut. Working 20% less and receiving 20% less pay is not a reduction in pay per hour--it is a reduction in hours worked.

A reduction in pay is working the same number of hours for 20% less salary.

As for pensions--well, the battle has yet to be joined: generational battle brews over gilded-baby boom pensions.

The "raising revenue via the back door" of skyrocketing traffic fines and junk fees is widespread: Speeding, Parking Tickets on Rise as Government Revenue Source.

Let me be clear: this is not a critique of government employees but of the systemic abuse of authority and underhanded methods being used to raise local government revenues without having to seek the approval of the taxpayers. If you read this account, you will see how the charge of "theft by other means" is justified.

On 2-15-2008, as I was traveling north on Lincoln Ave in San Rafael I came to an intersection that was controlled by a traffic light. My speed of travel was between 15-18MPH, I had the green light and three cars including me proceeded to cross the intersection of Lincoln Ave & Paloma Ave.

Important is to note that Lincoln Ave. on the southern side of Paloma Ave. is a four lane road, albeit cars are parked alongside the curb at certain hours of the day.

As I was traversing said junction, a school bus traveling south pulled close to the curb at Paloma & Lincoln and as it came to a stop, flipped on his red flashing lights. Just a few moments after I had crossed the intersection, one Motorcycle Police Officer passed me, at great speed, his red & blue lights lit, and pulled over the car and driver who drove through the intersection five yards ahead of me.

Within moments, I noticed another Motorcycle Police Officer right behind me, blue & red lights flashing, waving me to the side of the street. Having gone without a traffic ticket or any kind of incident for more than ten years, I was surprised.

After the Motorcycle Officer pointed out the school bus with his flashing red lights and a minimum of exchanged words, he gave me a traffic ticket. The officer was very polite and businesslike, little did I know then… this same officer gives tickets for that very offense almost on a daily basis. Passing a school bus with his flashing lights on, according to CA Vehicle Code 22454A, is highly illegal and carries a penalty of $561.00.

Things dragged out, it took about 9 weeks before the motorcycle officer finally entered the violation into the County Clerk’s computer, and shortly after I received my ‘Courtesy Notice’, (Copy enclosed). The Police Officer assured me initially that I would hear from him within 14 days!

After thinking about this ordeal at length, I decided I will contest this infraction. To my great surprise and dismay, I found out, that before receiving a court date I had to stand in long lines at the Court House on two different days, a period of time that not many people can afford to be away from their jobs! Most people resign to the fact that they are wrong; they must pay the fine, and let the county get away with it. Easy money for the County!! My court date was set for 27 August 2008.

As I was waiting at the Civic Center for the court date, I was approached by a woman who apparently overheard my getting a ticket for passing a school bus. After a brief exchange of words, we realized that we suffered the same fate, but on different days. Her infraction occurred after my date, yet her court date was set for 14 July 2008. Her name was Diana, residing in San Rafael, studying to become a court reporter.

The facts:

Both infractions occurred at the intersection of Lincoln & Paloma Ave., Vehicle Code VC 22454A, and both times the citations were given by Motorcycle Officer P., passing a school-bus with flashing signals!

On both occasions, we had a ‘green’ traffic light driving on Lincoln Ave, which definitely is a four-lane road, when you enter Lincoln Ave. at Mission Ave.

On both occasions, Diana and I stood before Judge H. in Dept. #N, my trial was at 10:30 AM, and Diana’s trial I believe started at 2 PM.

On both occasions, traffic was flowing and the school bus driver should not turn on his flashing red lights as long as the traffic signal shows the green light.

Even though the circumstances were identical, and the trials took place just 43 days apart, the outcomes were opposite!

Also note, neither Police Office was visible to me before I crossed the intersection. By law, the Officer needs to be visible!

I have enclosed copies of both ‘Courtesy Notices’ as well as Diana’s trial brief. In it, she explains in great detail why the traffic ticket was given in error! Diana, so she told me, argued in front of Judge H. the reasons why a car may pass by a school bus if the intersection in question is controlled by either a ‘traffic signal’ or a ‘police officer’! Both supersede the authority over any flashing red school bus lights, which should not have been turned on in the first place, at least not as long as traffic was flowing through the intersection while a green traffic light was signaling to do so!

During Diana’s argument Judge H. waved his copy of the vehicle code and stated that he realized Diana had done a lot of research, she knew her stuff and consequently declared her “Not Guilty”! To everybody’s surprise, 43 days later, in front of the same Judge, flanked by Police Officer P., under the exact same circumstances, naming the identical vehicle code, I was found “guilty”!

I have copies of the trials from Judge H.’s court in CD form.

My anger is not about the fact I received a traffic citation, but it bothers me tremendously that a ‘Government Agency’ fleeces its constituents under color of law and color of authority without shame. Most persons in that situation do not have time to return to Marin County Court over several days' time in order to contest the citation; they rather pay the fee and forget about it. That is exactly what Marin County is counting on, thereby extracting and extorting thousands of dollars from unsuspecting and innocent citizens.

I have surveyed and watched the intersection in question over time and on several occasions and have come to learn, that the San Rafael Police Department, with the help of a ‘friendly Judge’, purloin monies from citizens on a regular basis. It would not surprise me, if the amount pocketed by Marin County, using this very technique, surpassed several hundred thousand, if not in excess of a million dollars.

I strongly feel that this Marin County Caper should be investigated, exposed and the County be held accountable!

As I was meeting with Diana before her court date in July, we ran into another woman who had gotten an identical ticket from officer P., went to court and was found guilty by Judge H. She paid the $561 fine.

That is exactly, Ladies & Gentlemen, which proves what Charles writes in his Blog!

Under the flag of Law, under the flag of authority, we are all being fleeced, sometimes very simply, other times more sneaky scams are being used.

I have watched the intersection in question, again and again and have come to the conclusion that the citizens of San Rafael must have paid tremendous amounts to the fine Marin County workers in order to keep their pensions funded.

Thank you, J.D.G., for providing us with a detailed account of how "justice" has been undermined by a rapacious search for higher revenues.

We can conclude that if you have the skills and knowledge of an attorney, you might--might-- escape the collusion of the Judiciary. Or maybe not.

This is by no means the sole story I have received about this perversion of law enforcment and "justice." Please read Criminalizing Poverty For Profit: Local Government's New Debtors Prisons (October 20, 2009) and Readers Comment on "Driving While Poor" (October 23, 2009).

I will end with a story recounted by a friend who was nailed in a speed trap a few years ago while driving across the open spaces of the West (Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota). It was on the weekend, and thus the front office of local law enforcement was closed; no credit card payments for the $400 fine could be accepted. It was cash or jail.

Nowadays, that fine is probably $600--revenue enhancement, heh.

Why do I feel like we're living in a Third World kleptocracy where bribes have to be paid in cash?

My friend happened to be the sort who actually carries a large amount of cash and he barely raised the fine by emptying his pockets.

Now put a person driving an old car who does not carry $400 because they're living on unemployment and they don't even have $400. Now add a couple hundred bucks fine for the defective tailight and another couple hundred dollars for driving without insurance (either keep the electricity on or keep the auto insurance, which would you pay?), and you get a $1,000 total the poor person cannot possibly pay. Indeed, that sum is larger than the value of the vehicle and the cost of a year's insurance combined.

So the fine goes unpaid (adding another $500 fine) and the citizen will get arrested next time an officer notes the broken tailight, and said citizen will effectively be hauled off to debtors' prison by the local government.

If this version of "law enforcement" qualifies as "justice" then we truly have slipped into a Orwellian nightmare of abuse of authority, extortion and theft by other means.

Permanent link: "Upholding the Law" or Simply Theft by Other Means?

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