Closing A Rural California Courthouse Imposes A Tax

About 60 days ago, I received my first speeding ticket. I’ve been driving a very long time and was pretty happy about my spotless driving record. I deserved this ticket and the California Highway Patrol did their duty near Coalinga. I’m sure you’ve not heard of Coalinga…it’s a rural farming community in central California.

I was told that I would receive a ticket in the mail within 30 days. After 60 days, I was concerned there was a breakdown somewhere in the process and it is probably not prudent to just ignore this.

I dug out the ticket I signed to try to figure out what to do. The only phone number was for the Superior Court in Coalinga. I called to inquire about the status of my ticket. Here’s what I was told:

  • The CHP should have known better than to tell me to expect a notification within 30 days. There is a huge backlog of tickets to be “entered into the system” and my ticket has yet to be entered. As far as the court is concerned, my ticket doesn’t exist—at least not yet.
  • After July 27th, I’m going to have to contact a court in Fresno as the Coalinga Superior Courthouse will be permanently closed that day and all employees terminated on the 27th. When I contact the Fresno courthouse, I will be granted an extension of the due date for my ticket. [Is there a chance my ticket will become permanently lost in the shuffle? Fingers crossed—but I still have to follow up.]

Citizens who would have been serviced by the Coalinga Superior Court will have to travel 70 miles each way to Fresno for matters pending before the court. I call this a tax.

A 140-mile round trip plus the time involved is a tax. It is a tax on the people who live in that community that they will have to pay because budget pressures require that those court services be eliminated. And, we all know that if you need to go the courthouse, there is a reasonable likelihood that a matter won’t be resolved in one trip. It is a tax the people in this rural farming community can ill afford to pay. This tax required no legislative approval yet citizens will pay this tax for years to come.

And, of course, what about the court employees who are now out of work? Will they find comparable employment nearby? Perhaps not.

I owe the money to the court. Yet, based on how things are proceeding, it looks like the court is going to have to wait 90 days or more to collect from me. That is one calendar quarter (or more) of delay collecting my fine.

How much would you guess one-fourth of the traffic fines amount to in aggregate? I’m thinking it’s a lot of money to float merely due to inefficiencies in a process. This process is broken and has no velocity.  It’s a plow horse process when a race horse process is needed.  I don’t run my business this way and neither should the court.

Given the value of collecting the fine (several hundred dollars) versus the cost of entering the ticket in the system (a few dollars), the priorities seem a bit askew. I’m sorry the folks in Coalinga will lose their jobs this week. I wish them well.

Dave Gardner, Gardner & Associates Consulting

© 2012 Dave Gardner


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