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Drivers Nervously Navigate Chatsworth Traffic Court

Kristie Hang |
May 24, 2011 | 4:59 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

A diverse crowd congregated inside the Chatsworth Superior Court. Most dressed in their Sunday best while others chose to stand out, such as the young man wearing a pink T-shirt with overalls, socks, and slippers. It was 1:20 on a Monday afternoon. A nervous crowd of 35 or so waited in line for their 1:30 p.m. traffic court appointment. As the clock struck 1:45, the crowd began to get antsy. Noticeably annoyed and sweaty from the heat was Mary Mottle, 33, of Reseda. Mottle, dressed head to toe in her Fed- ex uniform was at court to fight the speeding ticket she received months ago, hoping to avoid the $356 fine she cannot afford. 

At the Metropolitan courthouse in downtown L.A. (Ryan Faughnder)
At the Metropolitan courthouse in downtown L.A. (Ryan Faughnder)

“I rushed to get here, had to take a half day off work and the judge is late. I just hope that my officer doesn’t show up.”

When the crowd was finally let in, Mottle made her way to the middle of the seating filling out paperwork in one hand and feverishly scoping to see if her officer had shown up on the other.

He did. When it came time to share the exhibits with their respective officers, Officer Morales called her aside to show her the photographic evidence he had of her going 55mph in a 33mph zone. Mottle pleaded with the officer telling him that she could not afford the steep fine. Mottle, who has been working at FedEx for over a decade, is a single mother that has to support her two children on her own. After she and Morales conversed over the fine, he suggested that she ask the judge for community service in lieu of the hefty fine in the event she is found guilty.

Mottle is one of the many L.A. drivers in court who cannot afford to pay their traffic fines. With living expenses high and the current economic downturn, paying a ticket is the last thing she can afford.

The court was ready to begin as Judge Richard Brand made his entrance. One by one, the plaintiffs were called up to the podium to receive their verdicts. Brand, a grandfatherly-like figure reiterated how dangerous their actions were, asked if they understood and excused them within 30-second increments. The drivers each thanked the judge and left accordingly. As the crowd of 35 slowly dispersed, Mottle and ten other individuals were left for their hearing.

As Mottle was called to stand trial, she had a sudden change of heart. “I want to plead guilty. I change my mind, Your honor.”

Mottle decided to change her mind after seeing the calibrated evidence Morales brought. Luckily for her, Brand granted her request to do community service at her church where she is already an active member to work off her fine.

Ann Barkhordar, 45, was stopped in Calabasas for failing to yield at a stop sign. She came to court hoping to fight the approximately $500 fine. Like Mottle, she had her fingers crossed that her officer would not show up.

“I have been driving for over 25 years and have never gotten a ticket. I did stop, but the SUV behind me was tailgating me and I didn’t want to get hit. I had my children in the backseat.”

Brand found her guilty after hearing Barkhordar and her officer’s accounts of the incident.

“That is more reason to be more careful. You were near a school. There are rules for a reason. Please come to a complete stop.”

Barkhordar, too, could not afford to pay the fine. Brand awarded her community service as well and ordered her to take traffic school.

The court slowly emptied out, leaving Arturo Gomez and his translator. Gomez proved to be a character to remember.

The 82-year-old Northridge man was fined last July for failing to yield to an emergency vehicle. Gomez, who does not understand English, spoke through his translator.

“Do you have any questions for your officer," asked Brand.

“Yes, I do. How can you say I was there? I didn’t hear anything or see anything. I wasn’t doing anything wrong!” quipped Gomez, who was practically screaming in frustration and anger.

He was then told by Brand that his previous statements did not count as questions for the officer. After the officer gave his testimony, Gomez was found guilty.

As Gomez broke down into tears, Brand offered to let him do community service to lower his fine.

“I’m too old to do community service! I am old. I am sick. I don’t have money. I can’t do it!”

Brand, in his grandfatherly tone, rebutted “Well… I don’t think you are old at all! But I will excuse you from community service. I will still drastically reduce your fine and allow you to do traffic school.”

“I don’t want to do traffic school!”

“Maybe you will learn something in traffic school. We can all learn something in traffic school,” said Brand.

And on that note Brand exited the courtroom as quickly as he had come.

Reach Kristie Hang here

Click here for more of our L.A. traffic court coverage.



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