red light district

In April 2009, while in Los Angeles for meetings, I found myself caught in a sting. Maybe not really a sting, but the red light camera flashed as I drove through an intersection in Beverly Hills. Months later, the rental car company gave me up, and a summons arrived in the mail along with photos of me in said car, a link to a video of me in said car, and a fine of $435.  A fine of $435 for going through a yellow/red light. I was, after all, in Beverly Hills, but $435! I’m not condoning reckless driving or making light of a dangerous violation. I’m noting that $435 is a lot of loot. $435 could help Haiti, save a tree, bring books to a school, support a candidate against prop 8. How can California be in such financial straits with a cash cow like this? The amount seems arbitrary. Why not make it $1,000? Either is extortion.

When the summons arrived, The Suitor was none too pleased and vowed not to go down without a fight.  He licked a stamp and marked "Request a trial by mail." What follows is his letter of defense for me in this matter. For months as we continued to look for updates on the Beverly Hills Courthouse website it would only say "Stay Of Execution" as we awaited our fate.  STAY OF EXECUTION! I kept thinking of The Green Mile.

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"Your Honor,

I declare under penalty of perjury that this statement is true and correct.

Please accept this declaration as a statement of my plea of ‘Not Guilty” for citation XXXXXXXXX. I have been charged with ignoring a red light signal to stop. This ticket was issued due to a camera taping me driving. I humbly submit that there are numerous reasons why this violation should be dismissed with a not guilty verdict. I will outline in bullet form below:

· As you can see in the video, it is not clear to me that I was driving through the yellow or the red light. My determination is the yellow light was showing at the time of passing through the intersection.

· Proof of my belief there was a yellow light AND that I had no intent on “beating the light,” you see I did not accelerate the car at all.  I was looking ahead paying attention to my driving at a consistent and lawful speed.

· I am just a Texan visiting California driving a rented car. In my town where I frequently drive, the transition from yellow to red light is 5 seconds. I believe your intersection provided a significantly shorter duration which I had no reasonable expectation of having to make a decision to slam on the breaks.

· I have never had a driving violation, and I take driving safety very seriously.

Again, I thank you for your time and open mind in reading this declaration of “Not Guilty.” I enjoyed my visit to your state and welcome many lawful and fun visits in the future. I am now put on notice regarding your local traffic customs.


TEN MONTHS LATER, a yellow form letter appeared in our mailbox: "People Of The State Of California vs. Klein, Stephanie. The court finds the defendant GUILTY. Fine $435. If you wish to request a new trial, you must submit Form TR-220 within 20 days."

Put the pen down Phil.  Don’t go through this red light…

Drafting letters like this one, arguing with insurance companies, haggling… *this* is what excites Phil. Thrills Phil. He actually takes enormous pleasure in tasks like this one. Me? I would have sent in the check with a box marked GUILTY. Then in parenthasis might have written (eek, sorry!). Unlikely, though.



  1. Well, it looks like you have finally found what thrills Phil. Quit asking him for lists – just send him out avenging injustices.

  2. I use to be like Phil and fight to the death over anything the “man” tried to do to me. Bank overdraft charges due to their wrong doing, Apt. lease issues, DMV issues even service problems at hotels.
    Now that I have 3 kids I can’t even write a letter to the school teachers excusing so and so from PE for a sprained ankle.

    Suck and (such) is life in the world of excuses.

    Go Phil!!

  3. As an epilogue, we just received a notice from Avis Rental Car informing they were charging our credit card $25 as an “administrative fee related to the cost of collection”. “Cost of collection”? They collected nothing nor had to seek us out for payment. I called and they read me our contract which again stated there could be an administrative fee but defined it as for costs arising from the ticket “such as” towing, collection. If it had just said “administrative fee” I would have been OK with it but once they specified what the fee was for and I proved they did not spend on it, I disputed. I know, good luck with that one as well…

    1. Phil, their excuse is that they had to look up who was driving the car on that given date/time and tell the City who to send the bill to.

      I found this out the hard way in London. I was in the Congestion zone for about five minutes, and didn’t buy a day pass because I didn’t think I was there long enough to matter. A couple of months later, Hertz sent me an explanation of the additional $175 in charges they added to my rental car bill…they paid the ticket, then charged me for it plus an “administrative fee”.

      I bit the bullet and let it go. I won’t drive in London again, though.

      Still and all, keep tilting at windmills. Women love men who are Quixotic.

  4. If you saw the camera flash, is it safe to assume you did notice the color of the light and that the light was red, or no? That’s a legit question.

    1. Author

      It turned red when I was already in the middle. As in, I went through a yellow that quickly turned red on me. And in truth, it really really did turn so so fast.

      1. This happened to me last year, too. I did online traffic school so I wouldn’t get a point on my license, so after that was paid for the total was $500! I might as well have gotten a driver for that kind of cash!

  5. I REALLY admire people who take the time to fight back when this kind of bureaucratic crap is thrown at them. I may be in an unfortunate minority, but I’m sure I would have just felt horribly embarrassed that I was being accused of doing something wrong, convinced myself that $435 wasn’t really THAT much money, and paid it…maybe even with an “EEK! Sorry!!” note like Stephanie. Phil’s passion is a good one to have around I think! :)

  6. Stephanie and Phil, I have a similar story involving a one point violation, and my husband, who refused to let me pay and move on. I too felt wronged, and that felt even worse when they informed me, there are no reductions for a one point violation. In the end, I paid a larger fine and court costs. Good luck with your challenge. My husband always gets the break and I seem to pay in the end. Still you have to respect questioning authority! Innocent until proven guilty!

  7. Those tickets are illegal and you don’t have to pay them. I got a ticket in the same neighborhood and showed up to fight it in court only to have it dismissed because of a glare across the windshield.

  8. There are a few traffic lights like that in downtown Atlanta so be careful if you’re ever down there.

    CA is one of the biggies when it comes to reducing, recycling and reusing, and their emissions tests are strict so I cant imagine they would ease up on traffic tickets either. If I am not mistaken there are areas in which they charge you 25 cents per plastic bag you use at the grocery store or WalMart. So nickel and diming people isnt uncommon there. Great incentive for helping our world but $435 for not slowing down at a yellow light? Steeeeeep. And that’s the argument they’d use anyway, your speed was consistent but you are supposed to slow down when you see a yellow light which you didnt. Do the crime, do the time, honkey! Or the fine as it were ;)

    And you’ve never had a ticket before? Wow! Not that is impressive.

    This blog made me laugh. Phil and his hard-on for proving people wrong. Hee.

  9. Did Phil ever seriously consider law school? He’s got litigator written all over him — the excitement over a good fight, a general black and white view of things, total certainty that he is right, a certain lack of verbal finesse e.g., labeling things “moronic” or “stupid”…I’m just sayin’

  10. I really don’t like to be negative, but I lived in LA for years, and I never once saw the cameras flash for anyone who entered the intersection on the yellow light. I saw a ton of people get tickets for running the red lights. I also witnessed a lot of accidents caused by people blowing through red lights. The cameras are in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. Santa Monica doesn’t have the cameras, but they do have pedestrians who will step out right in front of your car.

  11. I used to work in the traffic court, and the cameras are set up so they only take your photo if you enter the intersection after the light has already turned red. Generally the ticket they send you in the mail has a photo of the red light with you behind the limit line, then a photo of you in the intersection with the light red, which shows you crossed the limit line after it turned red. You’re much better off arguing that it’s impossible to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that you are the person in the photo. This might well have worked for you, given that the car you were driving wasn’t registered to you.

    1. I would fight it if I honestly thought I was half way across the intersection before the light turned red – but that would probably require a lawyer and testing of the light and cost way more that $435. I all for charging red light runners thousands of dollars though. We just had another fatality in our neighborhood because of someone running the light. No amount of money compensates for that so if $435 makes someone slow down next time, I’m for it.

  12. $435 is ridiculous. I’m like Phil, and I definitely fight back when I feel like I’ve been overcharged or screwed somehow.

    A few months ago I actually wrote Quaker an email because I purchased a box of chocolate chip granola bars, and two of the bars didn’t have any chocolate chips in them. I know, I have way too much time on my hands. Anyway, Quaker sent me a coupon for two new boxes and a really nice response.

    Too bad the State of California doesn’t care where your brand loyalty lies.

    Best of luck!

  13. I wonder how they get cameras like that. I once got a ticket for the same thing, and the camera even had a freakin picture of my license plate. Granted mine was only $75. The price of your ticket is ridiculous.

  14. i probably would have just sent in the money too, albeit with much grumbling, but i love the letter. can we the audience plagiarize phil’s template should we be similarly wronged by an out-of-state dmv?

  15. Look in your phone book and look up local lawyers, however your most likely just getting a ticket unless the other drivers take you to civil court and fine you for car damages,personal injuries etc.
    in which case I would get a lawyer explainthe pot hole go takes pictures of the pot hole etc.

  16. Quote “$435 could help Haiti, save a tree, bring books to a school, support a candidate against prop 8.” True, all of that but in all honesty, would you have been donating $425.00 to Haiti, buying books for a school or trying to defeat prop 8? No, you can try to save a tree next time by buying scrap booking supplies and gift wrap that are made out of recycled material.
    Pay the fine.

  17. yep. this happened to me a few months after I first moved here. could not believe the cost. ridiculous.

  18. oh i’m so sorry to hear you had to go through this. If the camera catches you going thru a red light on Van Ness in San Francisco, it will cost you $750!! And the picture isn’t pleasant. It’s blurry and shows the laps of the driver and companion. Best to be wearin’ your britches while travelling through our lovely City by the Bay…

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