Traffic court debate in session

May 05, 2008|By MICHAEL DRESSER

Christopher Winslow of Baltimore is an ardent opponent of speed cameras who thinks I "really do follow the party line - the Nazi Party that is." He found my suggestion two weeks ago that citizens monitor the performance of their traffic courts to be downright sinister.

Speed cameras, and now spies and informants on traffic court judges? I know your objective is to save lives and make Maryland's roads a safer place, but at what cost?

It strikes me that in the Declaration of Independence and the sentence `Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,' you seem to have only focused on the life part. Life and the quality of life have always been a bone of contention between the conservatives and liberals.

I realize that you are of the VERY far right with little tolerance of people who do not see the way you do (this is reflected by how you never create a dialogue with an opposing view in your editorials, instead you frame the opposing view in such a negative and dismissive way that you come across as being very self-righteous).

One of the greatest qualities of life in America is the freedom to choose (whether to be ... [a] fool and speed, or to obey the law and go the speed limit). This is still a choice now. What you are hoping for is a land where we all are safe drivers and go the speed limit because we will be constantly watched and will have to pay severely in court if we don't. This seems to me like a first step to totalitarianism, and I really hope that if your form of America ever comes about, that I will have long departed this earth.

Nobody wants to see you depart this earth, Chris. It would be a less lively place without you. But your logic is a little murky.

Now let me get this right. It's Nazi-like to urge American citizens to exercise their right to observe their judges in action? So good Americans prefer secret courts and no criticism of judges?

The right to pursue happiness includes the liberty to race around the Beltway at 90 mph? That Jefferson was a radical dude.

So one of the great things about America is that we have the freedom to choose whether to obey laws or not? This true for homicide laws as well as traffic laws?

Some of us on "the very far right" have this quaint notion that laws are meant to be enforced. And that the rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness don't do you much good if somebody is depriving you of life with an out-of-control vehicle.

One reader with a similar notion is Sharon Berg of Lutherville, a retired physician's office manager and nobody's Nazi. She was one of the readers who agreed to sit in on traffic court and tell me what's happening.

After a couple of sessions in Towson District Court, where she watched at least eight speeders going 80 to 99 mph get probation before judgment and reduced fines, Berg wrote that she was "somewhat surprised at how lenient the judges were."

I can see giving a break to someone who has a clean record and "rolled by" a stop sign after slowing down and looking, rather than coming to a complete stop, or giving a break to someone with a clean record who exceeded the speed limit by 10, or maybe even 15 or 20 miles an hour over the limit (under certain circumstances), but I do not think anything should compel a judge to give a break to someone doing 100, or even 80 or 90 miles an hour in a 55 mph zone (other than a life or death situation!) It seemed probation before judgment (as well as a reduced fine) was given in the vast majority of cases.

Several readers shared my dismay at the solicitous treatment that extreme and repeated traffic offenders were receiving in District Court but wondered why I didn't name the judges.

"They need to be held accountable for THEIR reckless decisions that endanger those of us out here in flyover country. They NEED to be challenged for their foolish decisions. They NEED to be embarrassed in the community they serve. The only way to do that is to name them," wrote Scott Miller of Ellicott City.

The criticism is valid. It will probably come to that. But I would have to verify in person what any "spy" reported. Thanks to Berg, two Towson judges are at the top of my list for a visit.

Neil E. Dorsey of Columbia was also concerned about "the lack of punishment and deterrence for speeding and most traffic offenses."

I ran an alternative sentencing program in Howard County for 13 years, and we got thousands of speeding offenders sent to us for community service, attendance at a traffic program and ... a record check, on a yearly basis, on the offender. These were folks of all ages doing 30, 40, 50 and 60 mph over the speed limit.

One judge always gave community service or the [traffic] program when placing a person on [probation before judgment], with record checks. And if the person got another traffic offense, we took them back to court on a Violation of Probation, and 9 out of 10 times the judge struck the PBJ, found them guilty and fined them. Let me tell you that when those VOPs were held, and there were traffic offenders sitting there for their turn before the judge, they listened to the findings of the Court. It was [a] wake-up call.

I stand corrected

Last week's column contained an error - to which I can only plead guilty. The name of the organization founded by Fred F. Mirmiran and others with an interest in saving lives lost to traffic crashes is the Maryland Highway Safety Foundation. It now has a Web site: www.mdhighwaysafety. org.

gettingthere@baltsun.com

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