Last year, our county issued 238,000 traffic citations. They all passed through the Sacramento Superior Court. That means every day at the Carol Miller Justice Center, busted drivers from all walks of life line up in Room 100 with crumpled yellow citations in hand.
The process can be swift for those who choose the green line marked with a happy face, “Traffic School: Pay the fine and sign up for school,” or longer for the heavily populated and happy-face-deprived yellow “Appearing today” or red “Pay fine and all other questions” lines.
And—for observers, anyway—the process can also be entertaining. A while ago, SN&R sat back in the courtroom’s appropriately movie-theater-like chairs to watch some drama unfold.
Supervising Deputy District Attorney Kelly Mulcahy said that along with prosecuting duties, the office “helps people get from point A to point B in a system that has a lot of built-in bureaucracies.”
“They’re not criminals,” she said. “They’re just people like you and me who got tickets—my future jurors.”
Mulcahy oversees her “kids,” the lawyers-in-training representing the People, who are pre-bar or awaiting bar results. The nervous prosecutors go head to head with mostly unrepresented defendants, whose sole knowledge of the legal process usually consists of the video briefing shown before the trial.
Most defendants, Mulcahy allowed, likely are guilty.
Some, however, aren’t daunted. Take MTV “My Super Sweet 16” staff member David Gordon, who eloquently compelled Judge Matthew Gary to find him not guilty of impeding traffic. Gordon claimed he’d been doing just the opposite, moving the birthday girl’s white Cadillac out of the way after she took it for a spin and then left it on J Street. “And that’s my testimony,” he asserted.
Gary grinned. “This is a first,” he said.
Less lucky, Julius Quidim, a commercial milk truck driver, contested his red-light photo ticket. After California Highway Patrol officer Ron Ellison robotically testified that he’d reviewed 250,000 photographs and testified in over 400 cases and explained the ticket, Quidim, unprepared for his case, stated his defense: “I was loaded with a lot of milk and if I stopped it would cause a hazard,” he said.
Found guilty, Quidim left the courtroom, turned his baseball cap backward and lit a cigarette.
“That’s bullshit,” he said. “The camera is not right. It’s crazy. They don’t know how it is to drive a big rig.” Quidim called the trial “very intimidating, of course. Too much rules, you know?” He said the $371 violation is his first and he plans to appeal.
Sometimes the defendants fare better by default, as when officers don’t show up for trial. Or when Gary lets these moving violators off the hook or dismisses their cases with a note of caution and a “You’re on your way; have a nice day.”
On such occasions, quietly, the courtroom crowd cheers.