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California Man Sues Traffic Court Over Conflict Of Interest
Federal lawsuit charges California court system with violating due process to bring in more traffic court cash.

Judicial CouncilEvery judge in a California traffic court case has a personal financial stake in the verdict, and that violates the due process rights of motorists, Howard Herships argued in a case currently before the US District Court for the Northern District of California.

The motorist is suing the California Judicial Council, the state organization led by Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye that is responsible for setting the dollar figures for the traffic tickets that add $1.8 billion annually to the state's Trial Court Trust Fund. Herships has standing because he received two red light camera tickets for turning right on red. The Vehicle Code sets the fine for that infraction at $35, but after all of the judicially imposed fees, the fine rises to nearly $500 each. Herships was unable to pay the $1000 in fines, an amount that quickly ballooned to $1610 with late fees, so his license was suspended.

"There is no prospect for a neutral and detached judge," Herships wrote in his pro se complaint. "The state budget does not fund trial courts, and, as such, this creates a 'structural conflict of interest.'"

Herships argues the California Judicial Council sets high fines to generate revenue for court operations and that the system encourages judges to find drivers guilty.

"[The] funding of the state trial court is unconstitutional, as the... Judicial Council and Sacramento County Superior Court control the financial assessments which gives the judicial officers an incentive to generate income for the trial courts, which deprives defendants of their right to a neutral and disinterested judicial officer," Herships wrote.

Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers denied the request for a temporary restraining order that would reinstate his driver's license. Herships failed to persuade the bench, suggesting he will have a long road ahead in persuading the judge that he is right.

"While the court takes no position on the underlying merits of the claims, plaintiff has failed to establish at this juncture that he is likely to succeed on the merits of his claims, nor that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm," Judge Rogers ruled.

A conference on the case has been scheduled for May 22.