An interesting thing happened to me yesterday at a minor trial in city traffic court. I had been retained by a local cyclist to represent him in a hearing over his failure to stop at a stop sign. He had really blown through the thing, so we didn’t have much of a case about his failure to stop.
The reason he hired me was to try to get the judge not to report the violation to the Motor Vehicle Department. Since you don’t need a driver’s license to run a stop sign on a bike, the thinking goes, you shouldn’t have points taken off your license and you shouldn’t suffer the huge increase in car insurance from having this moving violation on your record. However, in this person’s previous experience, that’s exactly what happened, and he didn’t want it happening again.
Usually here in Tucson you get Judge Leavitt for these violations. I am told Leavitt is not a lawyer, and has never been to law school, although I do not know this to be true.
My experience with Judge Leavitt is that she regards her job to be to collect money and punish people for their transgressions against the City. She takes this job very seriously. She gives long introductions to each defendant about how the so-called “burden of proof” is on the City, and she loves to get into arcane and pointless discussions about “authentication” of photographs and so forth. She does not offer people community service unless they demand it and prove they deserve it, and she does not let you off for making a mistake. If the cop doesn’t show she continues the trial and makes you come back. And if you run a stop sign on your bike, you better believe she is going to report it to the MVD. I have often pondered her little introduction about the burden of proof, because in her view a mere allegation by the cop amounts to the City meeting its burden. It seems to me the burden of proof is actually on the defendant in her courtroom. I don’t like going in front of her because all you can do is lose.
But there was some kind of judge-shuffling going on yesterday and we got a judge I’d never even heard of. The hearing was in a tiny room. This judge did none of the preliminaries. He didn’t even have my client sit in the witness chair when I conducted the direct examination.
At the end, with no prompting from me at all, he offered my client community service and announced that he would not be reporting this violation to the MVD. He even had his assistant show me that she was filing the violation in a way that it would not be reported. Then he wished my client the best of luck and sent us on our way.
What a difference a judge can make in our so-called blind system of justice!