ABC 7 Los Angeles: California chief justice requests rule to stop huge fines for traffic tickets

Original report from ABC 7 News Los Angeles

By Miriam Hernandez

Lawmakers are concerned about the huge fines for traffic tickets, and now, California’s top justice is weighing in.

Sofia Lewis says she was wrongly ticketed. But like so many California drivers have learned, you must still pay the fine even before you go to court.

Trouble is many people don’t have the money. Then those fines mount. What started at $100 gets add-ons to $490. Miss a payment, and it’s $800 plus. Soon you lose your license, then your car gets towed.

“It’s real unfair because I have kids. I’m not working. I just went to a job interview this morning, and I cannot get the job until I my license,” Lewis said.

Traffic debt is a major reason many people drive without a license, according to Teresa Zhen, attorney with the South L.A. nonprofit New Way of Life.

“Virtually, 4.2 million Californians from 2006 to 2013 have had their licenses suspended because of an inability to pay court debt,” Zhen said.

Now, the California chief justice is calling for an emergency stop, requesting the state judicial council create a new rule that will give drivers a way to plead their case before having to pay a fine.

Advocacy groups say the public should have input in how that new rule will be formed.

There’s no word yet on when the judicial council will consider the change. Meantime, an amnesty bill is pending that will waive half of your traffic court debt.

Zhen says reforms are critical for people who have missed deadlines but fear going to court.

“They are afraid that they’ll get arrested, jailed, handcuffed,” Zhen said.

Valeria Salazar negotiated a way out of her $1,200 ticket by opting for community service.

But now she’ll have to serve 100 community service hours — time she won’t be spending with her little boy. It’s another reason drivers are asking for help from Sacramento.