warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Pasadena Drivers Feel The Snowball Effect of Traffic Tickets

Alexandria Yeager |
May 24, 2011 | 5:39 p.m. PDT


“It’s a set up. You pay either way,” a man shouts, eliciting laughter from the subdued courtroom, filled nearly to capacity with over 70 people waiting for traffic court to begin. 

He isn’t necessarily wrong. The people, many newcomers to traffic court at the Pasadena Courthouse, are asking the bailiff questions about the process before Judge Gus Gomez enters and arraignments begin. A person can plead guilty and pay the fine or plead not guilty and pay the bail, which is the same price as the fine but you must return to the courthouse for a trial.

Then there are the correctable offenses – tinted windows, driving without proof of insurance, expired tags, etc. – that also cost money, $25 each, to get dismissed.

The bailiff does offer one piece of advice. “If you plead guilty, ask for a fine reduction. The judge will usually give you one. Don’t tell him I told you that.”

Then there are the fees for not being able to afford the fees. Anyone who cannot pay the fine and wants to do community service, still must pay the $65 community service fee. Also, if you chose to go to traffic school, that fee is $64.

All that money adds up quickly.

Roemeo Sanders, who will have to do 14 hours of community service for talking on his cell phone while driving, looks around at all the people in line waiting to pay their fines. “I don’t think [the city] is having budget issues,” he says jokingly.

Others offer the same sentiment. Thomas Bolger pleaded not guilty to failing to use a blinker. “I thought I had a pretty good case. It was my first time being pulled over.” However, the police officer who cited him had video proof, and it showed Bolger did not signal before making a turn. Bolger changed his plea to no contest.

Bolger says he believes that officers may be inclined to write more tickets just for the money. He talked about the officer who pulled him over, “At first he said I was speeding, then he thought I was wearing headphones. He was going to give me a ticket for something.” He also offers an observation, “Where I live, it’s a small town, no crime, but all the cops drive decked out Suburbans.”

Another man, who didn’t want to give his name, vents while standing in line waiting to pay his fine. “This is a bank with deposits only. They don’t see people, they only see dollar signs.”

Roxanna, who didn’t want to give her last name, is also in line to follow-up with a complaint she filed. She says she was harassed by a police officer after being pulled over for making a U-turn in the business district. She says upon approaching her car the officer was screaming and yelling at her and she filed a complaint with the police department. She believes the negative attitude she encountered is partially related to financial woes and a city seeking money from traffic fines.

“From what I hear, the city is hoping for money. But they’re not the only ones hurting, I’m a high school teacher.”

But not everyone has such a terrible image of the police and traffic court. Anna Ziowzina was pulled over for speeding and also fined for not providing proof of insurance. On the bailiff’s advice, Ziowzina asked for a fee reduction and now has to pay $210 instead of $283. She compares her experience today with traffic court at another courthouse. “It’s not as bad as West Covina. They don’t reduce fees there.”

Apparently if you are going to end up in traffic court, the Pasadena Courthouse is the place you want to be. “This courthouse is not as bad as downtown,” Cynthia Solbatore says. She pleaded no contest to speeding and isn’t upset about having to spend the morning at the courthouse. “It’s annoying. It messes up your day. But, it was my fault. Honestly, I own it.”

Reach Alexandria Yeager here.

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



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.