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East L.A. Man's Bumper Sticker Airs Frustrations Shared By Many In Traffic Court

Ryan Faughnder |
May 24, 2011 | 5:01 p.m. PDT

Senior News Editor

The parking lot at the East Los Angeles Courthouse was so full Monday afternoon, you would think it was a new Trader Joe’s. In one of the spaces farthest away from the courthouse itself is an unwashed Nissan with a hood that looks bent slightly out of shape. Off the rear bumper, a doll in the likeness of Venom, Spiderman’s evil doppelganger, hung upside down in his menacing black outfit. 

Most strikingly, on the tail of the Nissan, the owner decided to place the words “FUCK OFF!!” in bold, all caps. It wouldn’t be fair to assume that’s what landed the individual in court, but it could certainly catch a police officer’s notice.

The sentiment expressed on the bumper sticker, however, might have reflected that of many at the traffic court that day, especially given the news that the L.A. Police Department has been using a quota system, at least on the Westside. The LAPD allegedly required its officers to issue 18 citations per day.

The quota system caught much attention this spring when two L.A. police officers successfully sued the LAPD over the issue. The officers’ attorney, Gregory Smith, called the quota system “fleecing motorists” in an interview with the L.A. Times. What’s more, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s recently released city budget proposed the hiring of more police officers to “increase net revenue collected” by $9 million. This is part of the mayor’s effort to close the city’s $400 million budget deficit.

The line to the ticket payment window on the courthouse’s first floor was full of irked individuals waiting in line for over an hour just to pay a fine or request an extension. At 1 p.m., about 35 people stood in line. By 3, the number had grown to 50. The line was enormous, especially compared to the line for civil offenses, which included only one man, who was yelling at the clerk.

A steady stream of people exited the courthouse into the parking lot all afternoon. I learned to identify people based on the color of the sheets of paper they carried. Some were green. Some were white with blue headings. I looked for yellow paper, the sure traffic court identifier.

The stream of yellow paper coming through the parking lot increased throughout the afternoon. Juan Parra, an X-ray technician, had just finished getting an extension on his ticket. He was pulled over for making an “unsafe movement.” “I was like, all right, I didn’t even know that was a ticket,” he said.

He had been on the Long Beach Freeway going north until he realized he was accidentally getting on the I-5, the wrong freeway. Trying to correct himself and not seeing anyone in any other lanes, he zoomed across the freeway, jumping the lanes across the fork to where he wanted to be. “I looked in the left-view mirror and saw that there was no one there,” he said. “It was 12 midnight.”

Still, he’s not bitter. “I knew what I did,” he said. “I told the guy, ‘Hey, no one was there,’ but still he gave me the ticket.” He ended up with a $260 citation, which he couldn’t pay by the deadline. He got his payment extended to July 11.

Another man leaving traffic court had been dealing with the same citation for six to seven months. The former B.Y.U. rugby player, who didn’t want to give his name, was stuck with a $450 ticket after getting nailed by a red light camera. He got the fine reduced to about $200 by agreeing to volunteer at the Salvation Army for community service. “I don’t claim to know it too well, but if you work the system, it’s not too bad,” he said.

Minutes later, a man who must have been at least 250 pounds came out of the courthouse door wearing a smudged white T-shirt and a black hoodie. The man, Andres Lopez, a car mechanic, has been dealing with the same citation for six to seven months. Asked about the reason for his citation, he couldn’t quite remember, pausing for a moment to think. “Uh, um…”

He finally determined that speeding was the likely offense.

He could remember the monetary damage, though. The original ticket was $316. “I just couldn’t pay it,” he said. Then, it was $381 after an extension or two, which was also out of his budgetary reach, and now he owe $419. All things considered, he said, he had few complaints, though. Asked for any advice, he simply said, “Just don’t get a ticket.”

Minutes later, the “FUCK OFF!!” Nissan finally rolled around the corner and drove toward the exit with Venom dangling off the bumper. In the driver’s seat was Andres Lopez. In a way, I was surprised. Altogether, he seemed like a pretty nice guy.

Reach Ryan Faughnder here. Follow on Twitter here.

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



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