I had one the nicest things happen to me yesterday that’s ever happened in my professional career. A group of friends who had been wrongly pulled over by a L.A. County sheriff’s deputy, then harassed, then wrongly cited for obeying the law, invited me to a thank-you dinner.
The thank-you was because I defended all eleven of the sixteen defendants who decided to fight the bogus charges. I’d like to say that everyone was acquitted due to my amazing legal skills and brilliant courtroom wizardry, but with the exception of one actual trial, all of the cases were dismissed because the citing officer failed to appear.
Of course nothing is as simple as it sounds. Deputy Castro, the outrageous and offensive cop who wrote the tickets, did appear once, for the first trial. With the help of expert testimony from Gary Cziko, and on-deck help from Geoff Loui, and due to the deputy’s confusion, dishonesty, misrepresentation, and ignorance of the law, in that first trial the defendant was acquitted.
Deputy Castro was amazed and even a bit angry when the judge ruled for the cyclist; we were kind of shocked as well. It’s not often that the court puts on a full trial, replete with expert witnesses, to fight a bike citation that carries no DMV points and that the People have already offered to settle for fifty bucks.
That one small win had big consequences for the rest of the defendants and for the cop. Deputy Castro, shortly thereafter, was transferred out of the traffic division. You can imagine that the captain was not pleased. Castro had called in a helicopter and five additional squad cars to write up the sixteen cyclists. Additionally, most of the citations had to be amended because Castro had put down the wrong location of the violation. When you tote up the officer time, helicopter time, squad cars, time spent processing, then amending the tickets, it was a significant action on the part of the department given the minor nature of the “violation” of CVC 21202a.
Deputy Castro looked foolish to the court as she lied and contradicted herself under cross-examination, but you have to think that where she really lost face is with her fellow deputies — going to all that trouble to call out so many officers to write a stupid bike citation that she couldn’t even make stick. Keep in mind that cops have pride about their work. No policeman, with the possible exception of the Thank-Dog-He’s-Gone-Deppity-Knox, takes pride in being known as a bike ticket violation writer. It’s drudgery, has zero cachet, garners zero professional respect, and is only done when there is either (a) absolutely no other law to enforce or (b) when the city council has demanded a cyclist crackdown. (a) and (b) almost always occur in tandem …
In the short term, the willingness of the cyclists to challenge these trumped up charges led to one terrible cop being booted from the traffic beat. In the long term it reinforced to the Lomita Substation that there really are more important law enforcement issues in Rancho Palos Verdes. It communicated that with limited resources, the department would be well advised to go pick on someone else, as these fake citations will be fought tooth and nail.
The cyclists who chose to fight instead of pay had to “waste” time and energy in contesting the charges. Compared to the settlement offer of $50 and no DMV points, it might seem like a waste; each defendant had to go to court twice: Once to plead not guilty, and once to appear for trial. But it wasn’t a waste, far from it. It educated the court, it educated the sheriff’s department, and it empowered cyclists to shift gears from being victims to being advocates.
In addition to fighting all eleven tickets, the defendants re-calendared their trial dates so that in the event one of them lost, we’d still have the opportunity to appear again. Since traffic court judges rotate, that increased the chance of getting a different judge and it would have forced Deputy Castro to appear eleven separate times. The one trial we did took well over an hour; that’s a bunch of overtime the department would have had to pay.
If you compare the time and money that was spent fruitlessly trying to convince the Palos Verdes Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes city councils that cyclists are traffic with legal rights, with the the time and money that was spent fighting the tickets, which successfully changed personnel and policy, it was the best advocacy imaginable. We spent hundreds of person-hours at city council meetings only to be beaten down and targeted by crazypants trolls. The public records request (publication forthcoming) I did on Robert Chapman, local PVE sillypants and bike hater, only confirmed that traditional political advocacy doesn’t work very well on the hill. Sometimes you have to suit up and go to fuggin’ court, even when it’s “only” traffic court.
Contrast our political advocacy with the effectiveness of fighting bogus tickets. The cops don’t show up, the tickets get dismissed, and everyone realizes it’s a shit-show, including the police, who are now more reticent to waste time writing the stupid citations in the first place. It dawns on everyone that the PV Peninsula has problems that are more significant than 21202a violations and bicycle stop sign tickets.
Unfortunately, there are still far too many cyclists in the South Bay who are willing to pay the reduced fee and get on with their lives. It’s too much pain and effort to re-calendar, go down to court twice, and deal with the whole headache. So last night, at the thank-you dinner that was ostensibly for me, I took the opportunity to thank all of the people who were willing to stand up for themselves and for others as well. And if you don’t mind, I’ll take this small space to thank them again.
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