Thursday, November 4, 2010

Traffic Court Drama in Beech Grove, Mayor Backs Hypocritical Judge

Deanna Dewberry of WISH-TV has been reporting about the immoral and hypocritical activities of a part-time judge in Beech Grove, Indiana. Charity Bryan, who has a disabled placard for her car, recently got a ticket for it not being visible. Her husband and her say it must've fallen off the mirror it was hanging on and fell onto the dash. They tried to appeal to the judge of the Beech Grove traffic and parking court, a retired lawyer who hears one case a month, and he had no sympathy for Bryan at all. As Dewberry writes:

And that's where they went. But Bryan says what happened behind the closed doors of the Beech Grove Traffic Court was a farce.

"The judge was rude. He wouldn't let me talk," said Bryan.

She says the judge gave far more weight to the officer's testimony that her placard wasn't where it was supposed to be. It didn’t matter that she was paralyzed, or that she legally had a placard. In the end, the judge lowered her ticket cost from $75 to $10.50 but tacked on $114.50 in court costs, bringing her ticket cost to $125.

Bryan says the judge didn't sympathize with her plight at all. And what surprised her most is that the honorable Charles Hunter uses a wheelchair.

"He came out in a wheelchair and I thought, 'OK, he'll understand and he'll dismiss it,'" she said.

No such luck. I-Team 8 wanted to know why, so we decided to visit the judge.

"I'm an old timer," Hunter said laughing as he adjusted his microphone.

His self-description is accurate. Judge Hunter is 87. Local GOP leaders brought him out of retirement in 2007 to run for judge of Beech Grove's newly-created traffic court. When we asked him about Charity Hunter's case, the judge said he didn't remember it.

Judge Hunter hears cases once a month and it's been just 14 days since he presided over Charity Bryan's trial, but he has no memory of the case. So we pose a hypothetical scenario.

We asked if someone could indeed prove that they had a handicapped placard and they were indeed disabled, even if the placard wasn't where it was supposed to be, would he dismiss the ticket?

"If they actually were disabled and they had a placard I wouldn't find them guilty, no," he said.

That was interesting considering the fact he had done so in the Bryan's case. I-Team investigators asked the judge to take a second look at the case, and he agrees.

After a week Judge Hunter promised to take a second look at Charity and Robert Bryan's parking ticket. It's back to court, and this time I was there to watch. The proceeding is, by my clock, 2 minutes and 48 seconds. When Bryan argues she is paralyzed and her handicapped placard had fallen off her rear view mirror, Judge Hunter dismisses the argument with a wave of his hand.

"I believe this is how they make their revenue, their money," said Charity Bryan after leaving court.

Dewberry goes on to write that the judge, Charles Hunter, hears one case a month and is paid $42,000 a year. Operation expenses outside of the judge's salary total over $120,000, but the court only brings in $85,000 annually. Ironically, the city-county treasurer for Beech Grove, Chris Duffer, admits that the court was started to be a revenue stream for the city.

After the second hearing, the WISH-TV cameras found the judge's car and found that his disabled placard wasn't displayed either. Yet he had no sympathy slapping someone guilty of the same offense with over $100 in court fees.

Dewberry follows up where the mayor of Beech Grove, Joe Wright, completely backs Judge Hunter and also has no sympathy for Bryan or other possible defendants who've been wrongly convicted and excessively fined in the court room that Hunter runs. It's not uncommon for municipalities, especially smaller ones, to look to traffic and parking citations as a source of funding. New Rome, Ohio, a former town (now dissolved) had 60 residents and had as many as 14 police officers, and earned infamy for being a speed trap (here and here). As I've documented before, Indianapolis' Parking "court" (separate from the traffic court) is run by a private company, T2 Systems. T2 Systems is also the manufacturer of the software the court uses to manage the parking citations.

Out in Keen, New Hampshire, where the Free State Project takes place, some "Free Staters" have had success stories of getting out of parking and traffic citations or being given permission to pay to a charity rather than the municipal government.

One of these days, people are going to realize that these courts that micromanage our lives are just a backdoor tax. It's the equivalent of what the IRS does every day but on a smaller scale, and these schemes rarely get the attention that the feds do. Kudos to Dewberry for paying attention.


  1. Johnson County does the same thing on SR37, where the speed limit drops from 60 in Marion County to 55 in Johnson County for 5 miles, then raises back up to 60 in Morgan County. Not that much of a population increase visible to justify the lower speed limit. Every time I drive it, there is a Johnson County Sheriff visible on that stretch.

  2. Indy Student should conduct independent research before blindly parroting a Channel 8 reporter. First, to label a judge as "immoral" because he did not receive a traffic ticket, something for which he has no control, is not only ridiculous, it is not "news." It is an immature opinion. Second, the FACTS of the story as presented by Channel 8 should be researched and questioned. Selective clips of video, patched together to tell a "story," may not, in FACT, tell the whole story. To see a web site publish a story like this without fact checking is disconcerting and does inspire hope for the future of journalism. I thought that "news" journalism was intended to search for the truth. Perhaps a good start would be to separate fact from opinion. Step 2 would be to check the facts. Step 3 would be to challenge the ANGLE of the feeder "journalist."

  3. Anonymous 9:31, I publish under my name and take responsibility for what I write. Lecture me on journalism when you can do the same.

    For better or for worse, most bloggers do this in their free time and don't have the rolodex or resources traditional media have at their disposal. Go write the television station and complain. I didn't write the damn story, I'm commenting on it.

    And yes, I do believe it's immoral and hypocritical to slap a woman who is disabled with a hefty fine when you can't practice what you preach.


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