Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Carmel on the Case: Ticket Talk Continues
Tonight, a chief judge taking action that could impact you if you get a traffic ticket in Broward County. It's all about a secret way officers communicate with judges. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case of this "Ticket Talk."
Some officers draw a smiling for a cooperative driver or a frowning face for a driver who gives them a problem. And the person behind the wheel may never know about it.
Steve Smith got four tickets and one frowning face after a run-in with Fort Lauderdale Police.
Steve Smith: "It puts you in a false light and then they had to add insult to injury by putting little teardrops on there."
Smith a law student, found out by going to the court file, something most drivers would not think to do.
Steve Smith: "When I asked for it to be pulled and I took a look at it, I saw something of a story that I remember that you did."
7News first exposed the secret ticket talk between officers and judges in 2009. At the time, the chief judge told me he was surprised at the practice and said it would stop.
Former Chief Judge Victor Tobin: "It's not good. We shouldn't be doing it."
Bob Jarvis: "So, it perverts our entire judicial system."
Nova Southeastern Ethics Professor Bob Jarvis says the problem is not the drawings, but the fact that a driver is left in the dark.
Bob Jarvis: "One side, the government, through the officer is giving information to the judge, that the other side is not aware of and does not have the opportunity to raise questions about and to challenge and to object to."
Judge Steve Deluca: "Good morning everybody, I'm Judge Deluca, welcome to Broward County traffic court."
At Steve Smith's trial, on his tickets which included careless driving, his attorney questioned a Fort Lauderdale police sergeant about the face she drew on Smith's ticket.
Attorney Ted Hollander: "There appears to be a bunch of dots coming down in each direction, are those tears?"
Sgt. Falzone: "I don't know, there's dots on one side... but a frowny face, in my opinion, is somebody that is unhappy with their contact with me."
Hollander pressed her on whether officers are trained to draw faces on the backs of tickets.
Sgt. Lynette Falzone: "I would love to say that I created smiley faces and unhappy faces but I'm not that inventive."
Attorney Ted Hollander: "So where did you learn to put frowny faces on the back of traffic tickets?"
Sgt. Lynette Falzone: "It's just a preference that I do that."
Smith was found guilty of two of the four offenses. His case is over and soon the issue over ticket drawings could be over too.
Chief Judge Peter Weinstein: "People have an absolute right to know what's on both sides of the ticket."
Current chief judge Peter Weinstein says he will be reminding his judges about the public's right-to-know.
Chief Judge Peter Weinstein: "If they do it, then we would like the traffic hearing officers or the judges who preside, to make sure that the driver is informed exactly what is on the ticket, so that they can have a fair opportunity to refute it."
The judge says tickets are becoming electronic and there won't be any space for drawing faces. So this ticket talk will eventually wind down on its own.
If there's something you think Carmel should investigate, send an e-mail to email@example.com.