Not the ticket for fair play
December 7, 2011
On New Year’s Day, California will begin offering a gift of sorts to motorists across the state who’ve failed to pay a cent on traffic ticket fines and penalties that were due on or before January 1, 2009. Now, under a new law, they’ll have six months to pay just half of what they owe.
But not everyone catches a break under the amnesty program, thanks to some wrongheaded rules concocted by the statewide Administrative Office of the Court. The AOC has determined that only people who’ve paid nothing on their tickets during the past two years are eligible for the 50% discount. This means that if you’ve sent along any money at all since 2009, then you’re excluded from the deal. In L.A. County, some 75,000 people fall into this category.
If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking: What? Why would we essentially penalize people who’ve made some good-faith efforts to pay their tickets while offering bargain rates to those who haven’t?
Actually, there’s no good reason.
The AOC is simply—and cynically—playing the odds. It apparently figures that anyone who’s made good on even a sliver of their debt is likely to keep paying. Conversely, those who’ve paid nothing will probably continue along that same course. This latter group, the thinking goes, needs special inducements.
But here’s the problem: it’s blatantly unfair. What’s more, there’s no place in the law that calls for this exclusion. In fact, the Los Angeles County Counsel and the counsel for the Los Angeles Superior Court have concluded that the AOC incorrectly incorporated an eligibility requirement not found within the four corners of the statute, SB 857.
Next Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will consider a motion I’ve authored to reverse this inequity. I’ve asked my colleagues to join with me in sending a five-signature letter to the California Judicial Council, urging that the AOC be required to include in the amnesty program individuals who’ve made any payments towards fines incurred or due prior to January 1, 2009.
We need to send a clear message to court administrators that such fiscal gamesmanship—even in the service of a good cause—is unacceptable.