The summons came in the mail. The instructions were simple. Review the enclosed photos of your red-light camera ticket. Check the box for Guilty or Not Guilty. If Not Guilty, request your day in court. But first…send in your bail payment of $490 for the ticket…to be refunded upon your appearance and proof of 1

I checked the Not Guilty box because I believed the photos didn’t show that I had committed the expensive offense I was accused of. My day in court, my judgment day, was scheduled.

I appeared last Thursday; and the moment I arrived, the metaphors began to bubble up everywhere. Upon entering the courtroom, I felt as if I were entering a holding room for purgatory, hell possibly, with a hundred or more other people, most of whom appeared to be Mideastern.

Maybe Mideasterners are bad drivers, I thought at first. Maybe they’re particularly litigious. Maybe I happen to be here on a Mideastern holiday. Who can say? There were only a very few Latinos, which was a surprise to me since I was in Van Nuys where billboards, storefronts, and graffiti are all in Spanish. Maybe I was in the in the wrong place, the wrong purgatory.

I grew nervous as the time for the judge’s arrival approached. What if I were to make some kind of error and perjure myself? What if angered the judge by my claim of innocence? What if I were proven guilty, might I be handcuffed on the spot and sent to solitary confinement for an indeterminate time? I scanned room for my safest exit strategy.

Once we were seated, and roll-call taken, the Sheriff in charge asked how many of us were here for “red-light camera tickets.” Most of the room raised its hands. We’re essentially all here to fight the eye in the sky that has witnessed us committing the sin of making an illegal turn against a red light.

“Okay,” he says roughly, “put your hands down and let me tell you how this is going to go.”

A few people, yes a few Mideasterners, immediately start yelling out questions so that the courtroom quickly threatens to descend into chaos. The Sheriff pounds the podium and lays down the law: “No questions are permitted at this time. Listen to me, I will tell you how this is going to go!”

He then tells us that before the judge appears, and before we state our plea and ask for indulgences, we have to speak with the “Technicians dressed in blue uniforms at the back of the courtroom.” We all turn around, and there they are, about four people who offer a brief hand wave to us.

“They will call your name,” he says, “and review the evidence against you and give you a chance to change your plea.”

Phrases like “evidence against you” and “change your plea” increase my nervousness and I’m beginning to think that this court trial I requested wasn’t such a great idea after all. Crap. And I wonder how long it’s going to take for all of us to review the evidence with the Technicians and then see the judge? Two hours? Three hours?

Well, more like three and a half hours later my name was called, and by that time I was ready to tell them to just keep the $490 I’d already sent in and let me get on with my life. Instead, I walked to the back of the room and sat down next to my blue-uniformed Technician.

He was serious, slender, and exuded a tranquility that I found comforting and unnerving at the same time. We sat very close to each other in the dark recesses of auditorium seating, like a penitent before a confessor. I was reminded of my Catholic past in front of the parish priest on a Saturday afternoon as we sat together to bear witness to my transgressions and find deliverance from them. And like a priest, this Technician had a very special gift to bestow…Truth…and then Forgiveness.

photo 3On his laptop, he opened the camera’s video of my red-light escapade at the corner of Saticoy and Canoga Avenue. This little feature film of the moments in my life carefully, inexorably, and unquestionably illustrated my shame at the traffic light. It was embarrassing to watch myself turn on the red arrow in clear violation of the posted “No Right On Red” sign with Saint Peter sitting next to me in perfect silence letting me absorb the hopelessness of my case and the ludicrous plea I had made of Not Guilty.

photo 2I worried now that I might be punished for such a reckless portrayal of my actions. The arrogance of “Not Guilty” indeed! I was guilty, guilty, guilty. Mea culpa! Mea culpa! Mea culpa!

I sheepishly turned to him, “The three pictures I got in mail looked a lot different than this,” I whispered.

He smiled and nodded gently. “I’m sure they did. You have the opportunity now to change your plea to Guilty or No Contest if you wish, and I believe (though I can’t promise anything), but I believe the judge will reduce your bail to avoid trial and to expedite your case.”

I had barely a second of hesitation. “No Contest,” I said, “I’ll change it to No Contest.”

He smiled again and nodded again. As he moved his arm, I expected him to make the sign of the cross and bless me. Instead, he reached for the pen in his pocket and made notes on my paperwork for the Sheriff to convey to the Judge.

I felt as if I’d been reprieved, even though I’d actually gone from a Not Guilty circumstance to a Guilty plea. It didn’t matter. I was soon free to go and the judge reduced my bail by $205! Amazingly, I’ve got a refund coming in the mail.

So I’ve been thinking lately that if I end up going to Heaven, a place I don’t believe in, or to Hell, a place I try very hard not to believe in, I hope there’s a Technician in a blue uniform sitting in the shadows of the Pearly Gates. I’ll walk over to him, sit down quietly, and together we’ll view the transgressions of my life. And if I’m penitent enough and sincere enough perhaps he’ll offer me some chance to plead No Contest as a reprieve for my evil ways.

I’m pretty sure, however, that a refund will be out of the question.





9 Responses to Judgment Day at Traffic Court

  1. Mary E. says:

    That’s hilarious! Big belly laugh! Did you know that in the Mormon religion there is no hell, just three levels of heaven-what you learn while on vacation.

  2. graham Jelley says:

    Great storey Frank and nice to no your getting money back. As you know in GB we can never turn on a red, maybe it’s no bad thing.

  3. Virginia says:

    My husband got the same ticket last year. That ‘busway’ is a gold mine for tickets/money for the city. The signs are hard to see and are confusing.

  4. Loved this and so informative!
    But as always so well written.


  5. Frank Z says:

    Thanks for the great comments!

  6. Peter says:

    We really enjoyed your adventure! Hope you guys are doing great. Love to all.
    Laurei and Peter

  7. Jane Feddersen says:

    Good one! Walter got photographed in Hamburg.. I saw the flash. Someone else’s car. 😉

  8. Grace says:

    Hi Frank – funny story! Sorry you got a ticket from a camera cop. I thought this was done away with and wasn’t enforceable. But, good to know just in case it happens to me, that pleading no contest might reduce the $ penalty.

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