Until just two months ago, I had received only one traffic ticket. That ticket came about eight years ago thanks to a stoplight that stayed green for exactly three-tenths of a second.
I think it was a money-making scam by the city.
On Feb. 27, I was leaving my house in Lemmon Valley on a Sunday morning after a snowstorm. At the stop sign exiting my neighborhood, I looked down Military Road to make sure no cars were coming and turned right. This road gets what can accurately be described as “moderately busy” during rush hour, but on a weekend after bad weather it was completely empty. Seeing this, I proceeded through the sign with a half-stop. A bored Washoe County sheriff’s deputy decided I looked like a danger to society, so she pulled me over and ticketed me for my heinous crime.
When you receive a traffic ticket, you can just pay it or fight it. I didn’t exercise this right eight years ago, but this time I was going to have my fair and speedy trial. I’d prepare my evidence, concoct a compelling closing argument and yell “I object” at every possible opportunity. Or at least I’d try to get the $200 fine reduced.
My day in court was at 8:15 a.m. Wednesday. I had to be up early that day anyway for work, but normally I’d pay the fine before I’d be anywhere that early. After passing through the metal detector in the building on Court Street in downtown Reno, I was directed to choose between two lines: one to pay my citation, and the other to fight it.
I was again tempted to just pony up my penalty when I saw the length of the two lines.
It seemed everyone wanted their time in front of the judge instead of just handing their money to the county.
Waiting in line I noticed that people from all walks of life were there: young and old, male and female, business-like and bums. I think I was there with look-alikes for retired state Sen. Bill Raggio and with Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. There was a man in a wheelchair in line to fight his ticket, which made me realize I was so busy trying to think of an actual defense that I had forgotten to invent a sob story. I’m sure this person belonged in that chair, but instead of wearing a tie I should have at least dressed to make it look like I couldn’t afford my ticket. A few minutes later I saw a sign saying, “Persons wearing shorts, tank tops or cutoffs not admitted to court.” I guess that means it wouldn’t have worked to dress sexy for the judge, either. Dang, and I’d been working out, too.
When I reached the front of the line, the nice lady at the window directed me to a Courtroom A on the second floor. I was reunited there with many of my queue mates to wait for our judge. There was the usual silence that accompanies a room full of strangers (e.g., elevators, doctor’s waiting rooms, urinals) except for a trio of people who felt no shame in loudly talking about their prior run-ins with the law. Apparently they were upset about not being able to drink beer on their own front lawns. I am sure they had been doing that very thing before coming to court.
After watching a video of a Ben Stein look-alike give us instructions on our day in court,
Judge Scott Pearson entered the room. His demeanor was all too pleasant for that hour of the day. It was as though he had already decided we were all getting the gas chamber so he wanted to lull is into thinking we’d be leaving with our lives.
But his friendly aura wasn’t just an act. He made this apparent as he graciously accepted many pleas of guilty and rewarded my fellow violators for getting out of bed to come visit him and discuss their infractions by lowering everyone’s fines. He was a strange combination of benevolent forgiver and bill collector. While he allowed everyone to pay less, he also encouraged everyone to pay ASAP. And when a man in a black robe encourages you to do something, you do it.
It took about 40 minutes for my name to be called. I entered my guilty plea and then said
I didn’t stop all the way because I didn’t want my car to slide on the ice, thank you your honor. I got some empathy from the judge when I told him about crashing my car on the ice three years ago, which made me extra conscious of driving on it. Pearson said he’d lower my fine to $89, which was really all I wanted. Not that I was happy to part with even one cent, but my two hours at the courthouse saved me more than $100, which is more than I’d earn in that time if I was at work.
While my experience was not at all horrible, it’s not one I hope to repeat for at least another eight years.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to write Judge Pearson a thank you note.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.