Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Fighting a Ticket

Back in August, I was on my way to work. It was 7:30 AM, no rain, traffic was light, and I was heading north on Lakeshore Avenue, a road I travel on every day and have for the last 5 years. Right in front of the Catholic Church, a motorcycle cop on foot steps out into the road, points at me and then points to the side of the road, obviously instructing me to pull over. I comply and the cop approaches my window, asks for drivers' license and registration and says, "I'll tell you why I pulled you over in a second."

I was confused. My car was in perfect shape; I wasn't doing anything wrong. A minute later, he returns and asks if I knew how fast I was going. I wasn't going particularly fast. Maybe 35 mph, the same speed I always travel, and certainly the same speed everyone else travels on that road and so I tell him. Lakeshore is a major artery connecting two busy parts of town. It's got two lanes of traffic going either way and 3 stop lights on a stretch that's at least a mile or so.

"Well," the cop tells me, "The speed limit here is 25 mph. You're getting a ticket."

I was very annoyed. Who gets a ticket for doing 35 in a 25? That's just ridiculous. I didn't know the speed limit was 25. The next section of that same road has a speed limit of 30. That I knew; I had seen the sign before. Grand Avenue, a similar type of connecting street just a block away also had a speed limit of 30. I couldn't recall seeing any 25 mph speed limit signs on Lakeshore. When I returned home, I looked, and there were no speed limit signs from where I turned onto Lakeshore to the spot I got the ticket. That decided it. I was fighting this ticket!

Having no idea if the lack of signing was a legitimate defense, I turned to Google and found all kinds of interesting sites explaining how to beat a ticket. Friends and co-workers offered advice. My favorite was go into court, and if you see the cop who cited you, ask for a continuance (I later discovered that was not possible in Oakland as they require 7 day notice for continuance requests). If you got ticketed in the day, ask for night court and visa versa, thus redcuing the likelihood your cop will show up. Still, I couldn't find anything specific regarding placement of signs except that if it's a residential street, the de facto speed limit is 25 if there are no signs. Hmmm... I didn't know about this.

I took pictures. I printed out MapQuest maps and included legends as to the speed limits of surrounding streets. I was going to ask for the ticket to be thrown out "in the interest of justice." I went to the first court date prepared to make my defense only to discover that it was just an arraigment and they wouldn't hear arguments. If I pleaded not guilty, I would be inelligible for traffic school if I lost a trial. I was risking not just the $75 of the ticket, but possibly hundreds in car insurance rates. I knew this was a bad ticket; I decided to take my chance in court.

A month passed. My intention was to do even more research, take more comprehensive pictures and obtain the "speed survey" for the street in question. I learned early in the process that if RADAR was used to determine your speed, then there must be a valid speed survey on file that justifies the posted speed limit on that road. Well, I've been kinda busy. I didn't take pictures, didn't get the speed survey and started my additional research an hour before I was planning on leaving for court this morning. The 20 minutes I spent on the Internet this morning was extremely valuable. In my notes, I recorded the California Vehicle Code sections that required the speed survey. I learned about some interesting case law which had decided that if a speed limit sign is posted that makes the majority of the vehicles on the road into violators, the speed limit is invalid. I wasn't as prepared as I might of been, but I still felt good about my very first appearance as a defendant professing my innocence in a court of law. I did spend two and half semesters in one of the finest law schools in the state.

When I sat down in the courtroom, I didn't see the cop who thad ticketed me. In a way, I was bummed, because I didn't want to win that way. I wanted to present may case! The cop walked in at 8:35, five minutes late. I guess the clerk knew who was there and who wasn't. The first three cases were dismissed becasue the ticketing officer wasn't there. The next three cases were pretty much automatic convictions becasue the cop was there, but the defendants weren't. I was the first case to be heard where all parties were present. I strode up in front of the bench. There were two tables on either side of the aisle, but despite years and years of watching Law and Order, The Practice, Boston Legal, etc., I couldn't remember which side the defendant sat at. They pointed me to the right table and the cop took the stand.

I was preparing my cross examination in my head. My key was to ask for the speed survey. If that didn't work, I was going to use my pictures (having hastily scribbled "Exhibit "A", "B" and "C" on them just moments before). I thought maybe if I took on a southern accent, they might think I was more Matlockian, and I'd stand a better chance. "Yohh Honahh, I would laik to ask the officah just HOW he chose tha pahticular spot to set up his illegah speed trap..."

I never got the chance. The judge asked the officer to relate the particulars of my infraction, but the cop looked kind of sheepish and began mumbling. Seriously, the guy spoke so quietly that no one in the court could hear exactly what he was saying except the judge. All I caught were "no speed survey" and "if it pleases the court, we'd ask the charges be dropped." The cop looked up at me looking surprisingly embarassed and remorseful. Aha! No speed survey! My plan would have worked. The judge declared "Violation dismissed!" I guess traffic court can't afford gavels or something, because the judge not only didn't rap it, he didn't even have one.

Of course, I was happy. I beat my ticket. In a way, however, it was almost like the cop not even showing up. There was no trial per se, just a dismissal. Still, that embarassed look on the cop's face made it all worthwhile.

I was not the only driver stopped in front of the church that morning. I saw some leaving just after I was stopped, and the cop undoubtedly ticketed lots of other drivers after I left. A few mornings after it occured, I saw the same cop, now joined by another cop, using the same tactics in the same spot. How many of them faught their tickets? Few if any. I'm sure the vast majority simply paid the fine. I feel good for myself in that I saved myself a smirch on my driving record. I feel bad for those who just paid their tickets. At least I know that embarassed cop won't stand in front of the church and despoil the diocese by issuing illegal tickets any more.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Although some consider it gauche to talk about one's own pay, something happened last week that I feel deserves mentioning. I don't intend to laud my own actions nor that of the company I work for, instead this story demonstrates how when you do the right thing, sometimes the universe looks after you.

First the bad part. In my division, if you originate a loan that has a pricing discount on it that has not been signed off on by corporate, you get paid maybe 1/10th of the ordinary commission. Given that the bonus part of my monthly check is by far the lion's share, an unauthorized pricing exception can devastate a month. Worse yet, the branch you work for gets hit with a huge penalty, drawing the ire of the boss. There are some systems in place to spot pricing exceptions in time to get them authorized, but the reports and such are flawed in that they don't indicate precisely what the nature of the discrepancy is. Even if the pricing is authorized, if there is even the slightest error in the extensive form by which one requests an authorization, the loan officer takes the hit. In one way, it is an understandable policy to prevent wild discounts, but still, given that one could lose a very substantial chink of pay each month, I think it's overly punitive.

In October, I originated 5 loans, and had the credit for a 6th given to me for winning an internal contest. Of those six, I thought everything was fine and and authorized. They had funded, and I was expecting the biggest check I've received so far. The boss comes out last week, and announces that of those 6 loans, 2 were showing unauthorized pricing exceptions. One of them was on the one that I had been given; I had no role in how that loan was handled. On the other, I was sure my pricing was right. 3 or 4 times I had checked it. Yeah, my pricing was correct, but on the form under which I had I received my authorization, there was one little error. The margin was off by .25%. The rate points and terms were correct, just a miniscule little difference in an aspect that won't even effect how the company makes a profit. The borrower will likely refinance during the fixed period, and the margin won't ever even kick in. The other error on my gift loan was a small discrepancy in the property type. I any case, I stood to lose 1/3 of my paycheck.

Another loan officer was facing the same situation, and she really went off. Threatening to quit, writing missives to the regional vice president, she challenged the policy, and it was said "we'll see what can be done." Well, it got done, My boss and the VP did their thing and I found out yesterday I still get paid. But that's not the point of the story...

After we found out about the unauthorized pricing exception, but before I found for sure if I'd still get paid, I noticed on my commission report that I was being overpayed on another loan. I was receiving extra commission because of an error on the company's part in how they looked at the loan. On that particular loan, I was making $1200 too much. Nice chunk of change, but still a lot less than what I was losing because of the other issue. Still, given that the boss was trying to do something for me, I couldn't just sit there are not report the error. I walked it in to her office, pointed out the mistake, and left the branch to go out into the field.

A few hours later when I return, the boss calls me into her office with "big news". She read me her e-mail thread where she had reported the overpay. Senior VPs in HR were part of the conversation, and when it was all said and done, they rewarded me for my honesty by letting me keep the extra $1200 that I was overpaid.... and again I don't get hit for the penalty on the other loans. Nice.

That being said, don't think the loan business is some gold mine. In November, I have originated 1 loan for a whopping $300 commission, and that's going to be my whole check.