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Culver City Chronology - Part 3

Sept. 11, 2003 to Present

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Part 2

Culver City (cont'd), Sept. 11, 2003:   Size Doesn't Matter
During the trial of a ticket issued prior to the City's March 2003 posting of larger signs, Comm. Amado ruled that since the picture of the signal and the lettering on the then undersized signs were the same size as those required for full-sized signs, the fact that the overall dimensions were too small would not matter.

Culver City (cont'd), Oct. 2, 2003:  Who Gets Traffic School Getting Hard to Predict;
Commissioner Opines upon Effect of AB 1022 on Minimum Yellows

The Oct. 2 trials were heard by Comm. Amado.  Sgt. Corrales represented the People.

Three of the eight cases were dismissed immediately, because of bad pictures.  The remaining five defendants argued their cases and lost.  Four of them requested traffic school, two were granted, two not.  There was no obvious difference in the cases between the two granted and the two not.
Defendant #1 : My small daughter in back seat spilled OJ all over herself, screamed, I turned to look, missed signal.  School requested, denied.
Defendant #2: The sun was in my eyes.  I was putting visor down and  missed signal.  School requested, denied.
Defendant #3:  An opposing left-turner waved me across, so I proceeded.  Did not request school.
Defendant #4:  Power to traffic lights was out two days previously, it could have affected signal the day I was ticketed.   She sensed Comm. Amado wasn't buying her argument, requested school.  Rather than ruling on the school request, the commissioner allowed Sgt. Corrales to do standard speech on how a traffic signal reacts to power outage.  Sgt. Corrales admitted there had been an outage, but not at time of her ticket.   Comm. Amado then asked her if she wanted to change plea.  She pled guilty, was granted traffic school.
Defendant #5:  This guy argued a long time - I have two full pages of notes on his case.  Also, he was speeding, 54 in a 35, something that is rare with red light tickets.  The yellow was too short, I couldn't have been in the intersection.  He sensed that Comm. Amado wasn't buying it, so conceded guilt but complained that he hadn't been made aware ahead of time that there was video of him, and that he wouldn't have contested the ticket if the full evidence had been mailed to his house.  Comm. Amado said:  "I'm gonna let you go to traffic school because I sandbagged you."
Comm. Amado has granted "second offender" traffic school just once during the ten months I have been observing his trials (see Sept. 4, 2003 entry, above).  And during the trial session of Sept. 25, 2003, he said, just after granting (regular) traffic school to a defendant who requested it immediately after the conclusion of the officer's testimony: "Pretty soon we're gonna stop doing this."
(For more about traffic school policy, see the editorial in the Letters/Comments section on the Links page.)

In his ruling on the claim of defendant #5 above that the yellow was too short, Comm. Amado opined that the [then] present version of VC 21455.7 does not make use of the CalTrans chart of yellow times mandatory, leaving it to be advisory only, whereas the new version enacted by AB 1022 will in fact do so (once it is effective in January 2004).
I disagree.  I think that AB 1022 has not resolved the 'advisory vs. mandatory' question.  I think "
Truth in Evidence" prevails, and that, post-Jan. 1, judges who continue to consider the chart as merely advisory will be able to do so without restraint.   
(For more about AB 1022, see the Action page.)

Culver City (cont'd), Oct. 16, 2003:  Defendant Beats 0.1 Ticket Using City's Own Video!
Five of the sixteen cases were dismissed immediately, because of bad pictures.  One more was an "it's not me" dismissal.  The balance, except for one, either pleaded guilty or were found guilty.
That one remaining case was interesting.  But first, a little background:  At the beginning of every Culver City red light camera trial (or arraignment) session, the police are allowed to show a city-produced public relations videotape.  
The video tells us how great Culver City's camera program is, etc., and includes video of a signal changing. 
On Oct. 16, for the first time in my experience (and possibly anywhere), a defendant with a 0.1 ticket presented what I call a "filament" defense (see newly-added Defect # 7 on the Home page), and won.  And she did it in a very imaginative way.  Initially she tried using the color photo printed on her ticket to convince Comm. Amado that both the amber and the red were on.  But he wasn't buying that - he deflected her argument by asking Sgt. Corrales what color the light depicted in the still photo was, and the Sgt. answered "red," naturally.  At this point she appeared to be going down in flames - previously on this day Comm. Amado had been cutting off defendants' arguments and pronouncing them guilty the moment they faltered.  But she had a plan B.  She asked for the PR video to be put back in the VCR, and then she played the signal changing part of it in 'slo-mo' or a frame at a time (I'm not sure which way, as the public in the pews isn't allowed to see the TV.  For more about the TV access issue, see
Culver City Documents).  She showed that indeed there is a moment when both the red and the amber are on.  Comm. Amado quickly said "you win" and dismissed her ticket.  Everyone in the courtroom clapped loudly. 
It remains to be seen how this case will affect the disposition of the other 0.1 tickets Culver City has issued.  See a decision by a pro tem, at Dec. 18, below.

The Oct. 16 tickets were at the following intersections[4]:
Washington / Beethoven, 3 westbound, 1 direction not noted;
La Cienega / Washington, 1 northbound;
Jefferson / Cota, 1 eastbound.
The tickets had the following Late Times[4]:

0.1, 0.1, 0.2, 0.3, 0.3, 1.2

Culver City (cont'd), Nov. 6 and 7, 2003:  Pro Tem Judges Allow "OR" and Reasonable Bail, Traffic School After Guilty Verdict, and Second Offender Traffic School;
But The Courtroom Doors Are Locked

The Nov. 6 trials were heard by Pro Tem James N. Bianco.  Sgt. Corrales represented the People.
Before the trials began, there was one defendant up for arraignment, who was granted release "OR" pending trial. 
  Five of the fourteen trial cases were dismissed immediately, because of bad pictures.  Another defendant said "It's not me" and had his case dismissed.  Another defendant was found not guilty after she complained out that the second photo of her car did not show the red signal. 
Three defendants changed their pleas to guilty without arguing their cases, and were granted traffic school.  Another defendant listened to Sgt. Corrales' testimony, did not ask him any questions and did not testify or argue.  She was found guilty and was granted traffic school.
Three defendants were found guilty after making long arguments.  Two of them asked for traffic school, which was granted.

The Nov. 6 tickets were at the following intersections[4]:
Washington / Beethoven, 1 westbound, 2 eastbound;
  Sepulveda / Green Valley, 1 southbound;
  Washington / Sawtelle, 1 eastbound.
The tickets had the following Late Times[4]:

0.1, 0.3, 0.4, 0.5, 0.5

  The Nov. 7 arraignments were heard by a another pro tem.  There were 57 arraignments "on calendar."  He granted Second Offender traffic school to all who asked for it, and granted $100 (total) bail to at least three of the seventeen defendants who pled not guilty.
The courtroom doors were kept locked during the entire Nov. 7 session.  The bailiff said that this was done at the request of the pro tem.

Culver City (cont'd), Nov. 13 and 14, 2003:  More Pro Tems, Reduced Fines (!!!), "OR," Second Offender Traffic School; and the Doors Weren't  Locked
The Nov. 13 trials saw a repeat appearance by Pro Tem Bianco.  Nine of the twelve cases were dismissed or the defendant found not guilty.  One of those dismissals was because it had taken 25 days for the city to mail the ticket (see Defect # 8 on the Home Page).  And the two defendants who lost and asked for traffic school were granted it.

The Nov. 14 arraignments were heard by Pro Tem Nancy E. Sussman.  There were 70 arraignments "on calendar" - standing-room-only in the courtroom.  She reduced everyone's base fine to $75 from the usual $100, saving each defendant about $85.   She reduced the fine much further for a defendant who brought evidence of financial hardship with him.   She granted Second Offender traffic school to all who asked for it,  and "OR" to a defendant who was on disability.

Culver City (cont'd), Dec. 11 and 12, 2003:  More Pro Tems, All Allow Second Offender Traffic School; More Reduced Fines
The Dec. 11 trials were heard by Pro Tem Andrew N. Weissman.  Six of the fourteen cases were dismissed or the defendant found not guilty.  The defendants who lost and asked for either regular or Second Offender traffic school, were granted it.

The Dec. 12 arraignments were heard by Pro Tem Laura D'Auri.  There were about 65 arraignments "on calendar."  I entered late and had to sit on the floor.  She reduced everyone's base fine from the usual $100 to $50, saving each defendant about $160.  She granted Second Offender traffic school to all who asked for it.

Culver City (cont'd), Dec. 18, 2003:  Pro Tem Allows Traffic School with One Exception, Gives Clear Statement of His Traffic School Philosophy, and Hears Defects # 7 and # 8.
The Dec. 18 trials were heard by Pro Tem Damon R. Swank, who previously served on Feb. 18 (see above).  In his opening instructions, he said:  "After-trial traffic school is discretionary - depending upon what we find during the trial.  It won't be denied just because you asked for a trial - that would be discouraging your right to a trial."  True to that statement, he granted regular or 12-hour traffic school to every defendant but one.  That defendant told me that it was denied her because she was doing 40 in a 35.  Six of the fifteen cases were dismissed or the defendant found not guilty.
There were also cases where Defects # 7 and # 8 were argued.
Defect # 7:  A female defendant with a 0.1 sec. Late Time pointed out that on her copy of the ticket, both the red and the orange appeared to be lit.   Sgt. Corrales replied that it was due to reflection of the flash, and then used the TV to display the negative, which the judge said showed small lit dots or twinkles in both the orange and the green.    He found her guilty, and gave her traffic school.  Later, the defendant re-appeared and asked if the court would look at the photos from other violations (with Late Times greater than 0.1) to see if similar reflections were present.  Sgt. Corrales said those photos were confidential.  The pro tem declined to review any other photos, and re-affirmed his earlier decision.  See also Oct. 16, above.
Defect # 8:  A male defendant made a motion for dismissal under CVC Sec. 40518.  The pro tem asked him how he received the ticket, and commented:  "So they mailed it to you and you got it."  When the defendant repeated his request for a Certificate of Mailing, the pro tem said that he would need to see some evidence of the requirement, and that he would have to find that (the city's failure to obtain a Certificate of Mailing) had caused some prejudice to the defendant's interests.  Under prompting by the judge, Sgt. Corrales read (aloud) the definition of "certificate" from a legal dictionary, and argued that the city's proof of service (printed on the ticket) was the equivalent of a Certificate of Mailing.  The pro tem agreed, and denied defendant's motion.

More examples of pro tems' (and judges' in other cities) policies are above, at Dec. 31, 2002, and in 2003, Feb. 20 and 21, June 16 and 17, Nov. 6 and 7, and Dec. 11 and 12.

Culver City (cont'd), Feb. 17 - 18, 2004:  Red Light Cameras on TV!
On Feb. 17 and 18 KNBC-4 Los Angeles broadcast a two-part investigation of red light cameras.  They used footage from the Culver City court.  See the News section on the Links page for more information.

Culver City (cont'd), February 2004:  Commissioner Amado Honored at Police Banquet
At the annual awards banquet held by the Culver City police department, Comm. Ralph Amado was honored as a member of the community who has been "exceptionally helpful to the police department." 
(Culver City News, 2-26-04)

Culver City (cont'd), May 2004:  I'm Still Here!
The editor of this website is continuing to attend the trials (Thursday afternoons), and one of the arraignment sessions (Friday afternoon) each week in Culver City.   Those hearings have all been before Comm. Amado - no more pro tems like during the holiday season. 
A little has changed.  Sgt. Wolford has retired, so Sgt. Corrales is the only one representing the police at trials.  The city prosecutor never shows up.   While Washington / Beethoven still is, by far, the #1 intersection for tickets, its proportion of all tickets has declined a little.  Tied (approximately) for second place are Sepulveda / Green Valley, Washington  / Sawtelle, and "new contender" Jefferson / Overland left turns (see the Left Turn section in Defect # 9 on the Home Page).  They've stopped showing the city-produced PR video that they used to play before each arraignment and trial session (see the Oct. 16, 2003 Culver City entry above).
But mostly it is the same.  Comm. Amado continues to be unpredictable about granting traffic school to defendants who have gone to trial and argued their cases and lost - although he grants it more than half the time.  
He has granted Second Offender traffic school only one or two times this year. He still will not reduce the fine.
A high proportion of cases continues to be dismissed (at trial), mostly because of bad photos.

Culver City (cont'd), July 9, 2004:  Pro Tems Allow Second Offender Traffic School, "OR"
On the afternoon of Thursday July 8 the courtroom was dark.  Comm. Amado was on vacation, and he or the court administration had decided not to allow a pro tem to hear the red light camera ticket trials that are the usual Thursday afternoon fare.
The Friday July 9 morning and afternoon arraignments were heard by pro tems. Both allowed Second Offender traffic school, and one gave "OR" to a defendant.   The afternoon session pro tem also volunteered her position on Defect # 6 (no 30-day warnings on new cameras), saying:  "If that camera has been there more than 30 days and is properly posted with warning signs, it is a valid operation."

Culver City (cont'd), July 22, 2004:  Half are at Westbound Washington / Beethoven
The July 22 trials were heard by Comm. Amado.  Sgt. Corrales represented the People.
One of the eleven tickets was dismissed immediately, because of a bad picture.  Two more were dismissed after the defendants asked the judge if he was sure, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it was them in the photo.  One ticket, with a female driver pictured,  was dismissed when the male defendant said:  "It's not me."  Comm. Amado did not ask him who it was.  The remaining seven defendants argued their cases and lost.  All asked for traffic school.  Two were granted it.  Four were denied:  One of those was for no obvious reason (although he was the first defendant to argue his case that day), and three of those were because they were only eligible for Second Offender traffic school, which Comm. Amado will not grant.  For one defendant, I couldn't tell if she got school or not.

The July 22 tickets were at the following intersections[4]:
Washington / Beethoven, 4 westbound;
Sepulveda / Green Valley, 1 northbound;
La Cienega / Washington, 1 northbound;
Jefferson / Overland, 1 eastbound left turn;
Washington Place / Centinela, 1 eastbound.
The tickets had the following Late Times[4] (the Washington / Beethoven times are underlined):
0.14, 0.14, 0.17, 0.44, 0.5, 0.51, 0.53, 0.57

Culver City (cont'd), July 23, 2004:  Pro Tem Reduces Fines, Allows "OR"
While Comm. Amado was present for the July 22 Thursday afternoon trials (above), he was absent on Friday the 23rd, so the afternoon arraignments were heard by a pro tem.   The pro tem reduced most fines from the usual $100 to $50 (plus penalty assessment of course).  He also granted "OR" to a number of defendants, after asking them how long they had lived at their present address.

Culver City (cont'd), Aug. 5, 2004:  Missing Sign Doesn't Matter
During the Aug. 5,  2004 trial of a ticket issued at Sepulveda  / Machado in Culver City the defendant pointed out that there was no warning sign on the large driveway (for a housing complex) that makes up the 4th side of that intersection.  Comm. Amado ruled that it is not required to post signs facing traffic coming from private property.

Culver City (cont'd), Sept. 9, 2004:  Pro Tem Handles Trials, 6 of 11 Tried Are Dismissed;
Two Defendants "Stampeded" Into Giving Up Trial
The Sept. 9 trials were heard by Judge Joseph Shiro Biderman (from Div. 1 "next door") and Pro Tem Anat R. Levy.   Sgt. Corrales represented the People.
Judge Biderman handled the first trial, as the defendant was represented by an attorney, and pro tems cannot hear cases argued by lawyers.  The defendant said that she proceeded through the intersection because there was a police car with its emergency lights on behind her.  Judge Biderman ruled that she should have pulled over rather than proceeding, found her guilty, and allowed traffic school. 
Then Pro Tem Levy took the bench.  She immediately dismissed 5 of the 11 tickets, at the request of the police, probably because of bad face photos.  Later in the trial session one more was dismissed because, the defendant claimed, she had not been brought to trial within 45 days.  
The first defendant to be tried was found guilty and did not ask for traffic school.  However, immediately after concluding that trial, Pro Tem Levy announced, "To those of you who want traffic school, now is the time to ask for it; I am very very reluctant to do it after the trial."  That announcement caused two defendants to come forward and ask for traffic school.  One needed Second Offender traffic school, and was granted it.
The remaining 3 defendants argued their cases and lost.  All asked for traffic school and were granted it - despite the pro tem's previous announcement.

The Sept. 9 tickets were at the following intersections[4]:
Washington / Beethoven, 1 westbound, 1 eastbound;
Sepulveda / Green Valley, 1 northbound, 1 southbound;
Jefferson / Overland, 1 eastbound left turn.
The tickets had the following Late Times[4] (the Washington / Beethoven times are underlined):
0.31, 0.32, 0.41, 0.64, 0.75

Culver City (cont'd), Sept. 10, 2004:  Pro Tem Halves All Fines and Bail, Allows Second Offender Traffic School
As has become routine recently, the Friday afternoon arraignments were heard by a pro tem.  Pro Tem Sheila Pistone reduced all the camera ticket fines by 50%, and granted Second Offender traffic school.  For the camera defendants who chose to plead not guilty, she reduced the bail by 50%.

Culver City (cont'd), Dec. 1, 2005:  First Visit to Santa Monica Courthouse
For the first time since the Culver City Couthouse was closed and the trials were moved to the Santa Monica courthouse (and a new judge), I attended a Culver City trial session. 
I want to immediately put out this warning:
You do not want Comm. Pamela A. Davis, the regular judge in Dept. S, to hear your case.  If there is still time, do a Peremptory Challenge to remove her.

Culver City (cont'd), Jan. 29, 2009:  New Judge
There is a new judge in Dept. S, Judge Lawrence Cho.  (Comm. Davis is now at the West LA courthouse.)
There were 23 cases on the trial calendar, nine of which were for VC 21453(c), left turns.  About half of the cases were "OR" - no bail.  Officer Marks began by offering everyone a private viewing of their pictures and video.  
Later, when the judge came in, he offered traffic school to everyone - on the condition that they would change their plea to guilty or nolo and not argue their case.  He said that there was no guarantee of getting traffic school later after he had been shown the video of their violation.  (The video monitor was oriented so that the audience could easily see it.)  Later on, in response to a defendant's question, he said, "If you're going to fight it, that's the sort of person who would not learn from education (and would not be given traffic school)." 
Of the 23 cases calendared, two were no shows, four cases were dismissed when called when Officer Marks said "1385, identity," and all the remaining defendants opted for traffic school, including two who had indicted earlier that they wanted to go ahead with a trial.

To contact Culver City officials, the Culver City Chamber of Commerce, or CalTrans, see the Links page of this website. 
To get a "Don't Shop in Culver City" button, or to contact your State legislator, see the Action page of this website.


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