5/22/2019California Judge Denied Due Process In Photo Ticket Case
California Commission on Judicial Performance censures sitting judge refusing to self-incriminate in red light camera case.
The California court system does not want anyone challenging a red light camera ticket -- especially not a judge. The state Commission on Judicial Performance on Monday formally rebuked Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Ariadne J. Symons for invoking her right not to incriminate herself after a photo ticket arrived in the mailbox addressed to her husband.
American Traffic Solutions (ATS, now Verra Mobility) photographed a 2007 Pontiac belonging to Judge Symons on May 10, 2016, and accused the judge's husband of running a red light. Because California imposes license points along with the $489 fine for red light camera tickets, the law requires that the driver be positively identified. In this case, the photograph was unclear.
"The car is a family car and a number of people, family and friends, drive it," the judge's husband wrote in response to the ticket. "I looked at the photo attached to the citation. It is rather unflattering and unclear. It could perhaps be any slightly pudgy white guy, but it is not me."
He included a copy of his work time sheet to confirm there was forty miles away at the time the offense was allegedly committed. He also included a check for $489. The ticket was dismissed, but because a judge's relative was involved, an investigation opened. Judge Symons was willing to admit that she ran a red light, but her husband insisted on exercising his constitutional right to a fair trial without implicating his wife. Presiding Judge Denine J. Guy ordered Judge Symons to contact ATS and the court to incriminate herself. Judge Symons did so, and the ticket was re-issued in her name.
"Judge Symons knowingly assisted her husband in filing the request for trial by written declaration with the court, which was designed to have the citation dismissed and which did not identify the judge as the actual driver," commission chairman Nanci E. Nishimura wrote. "The judge's conduct constitutes, at a minimum, prejudicial misconduct."
The commission also slammed Judge Symons for filing her husband's declaration with the clerk using her access to non-public areas of the courthouse. The commissioner who received the letter had no idea it was from a judge's relative, because the couple do not share the same last name. The commission ruled that Judge Symons should have stood in line at the clerk's window like any other member of the public to file the form.
The court also censured Judge Symons for her conduct in three unrelated trials. In one case, a defendant admitting drinking alcohol before visiting his children. Judge Symons ordered him not to "down a couple of 40s" before picking them up. The public censure represents the most severe punishment short of removing a judge from office.
A copy of the commission ruling is available in an 800k PDF file at the source link below.