Lenient traffic commissioner still lenient first day back in Fremont

Traffic Commissioner John Porter, who I wrote about a couple weeks ago, finally made his return to Fremont today. None of his cases involved right turn on red violations, for which he is the only commissioner who’ll knock down the fine from $480 to $110.

But  for the other cases, Porter continued his practice of significantly lowering what fines he could. He found two speeders guilty, but assessed them both $125 fines instead of the standard $234.

Since they had both already paid the $234, they left court with a tidy refund.


Matt Artz


  1. Commissioner Lonsdale hands down maximum fines and almost never grants community service. She feels punishment for dangerous traffic infractions is appropriate and will help make sure individuals will not re-offend. I don’t see evidence that heavy punishments reduces incidence of infractions. In the case of red light camera tickets, the numbers of tickets stays about the same. The mandatory minimum fine of $490 is not reducing red light running. That is why the cameras are successful. Success defined as revenue-generation.

  2. I wonder if an argument can be made that the disparate treatment received for the same crime by different commissioners amounts to not getting equal protection of the laws (U.S. Constitution, 14th Amendment).

    I guess Commissioner Lonsdale believes she needs to be “tough on crime” but enforcing harsh minima, even on rolling right turns through a red light and not giving the chance to pay off the harsh fine through community service. This is a holiday season where the working man is struggling to get by. I hope when Commissioner Lonsdale faces tough times, she finds people more lenient than herself.

  3. Looks like my post about the Tri City Voice got censored.
    Is that what they call freedom of the press

  4. Leniancy is a relative term.

    Based on the behavior of the two judges Artz chose to scrutinize our reporter has opted to single out Porter as the “lenient” one, as opposed to characterizing Porter as (perhaps) ruthless.

    And, Argus has elevated its coverage of this individual(see the Op ed dated 11/27) while, simultaneously choosing to not bring additional comparison to the subject matter. . . . you know, like kicking in the behavior of 5 or 6 other judges in the same district.

    How about breaking the tie that is created by getting some additional data on other judges? Roger J did so, anecdotally, and based on his observations, just maybe Mr. Porter isn’t alone in his relative leniency.

    And, if the trend that Roger J sheds some light on stands the test of further information and scrutiny, perhaps it is Lonsdale that is in the minority. . . . which, starts to spin the original premise into a head-first dive into oblivion, and which also begins to raise an entirely new question about the reasons for singling out the (potentially) more frequently applied leniency of Mr. Porter, as opposed to the less frequently followed ruthlessness of Ms. Lonsdale.

  5. However conflicting the original data (a total sample size of 2) and however conflicting the facts as to who benefits our community more . . the series by Artz and MNG Op Ed folks was a very nice run which I am guessing served the Red Flex economic interests well.

    Editorial: Wide disparity in traffic fines must end.
    Contra Costa Times

    Posted: 11/27/2011 04:00:00 PM PST

    Levying fines for traffic violations, one might think, is a relatively simple and direct process in which violators pay a set dollar amount for each violation. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Alameda County.

    Two people caught breaking a traffic law there could end up paying considerably different fines, depending on which commissioner they face in court.

    For example, someone caught on a red-light camera failing to come to a complete stop before turning right could pay the stipulated $480 fine in Commissioner Nancy Lonsdale’s Fremont court or $110 in Commissioner John Porter’s court in Pleasanton.

    Porter said last month in court that “a right turn at a red light is a violation of a different section of the Vehicle Code, in my opinion, which doesn’t carry a maximum fine.”

    For those tickets, Porter dismisses the violation submitted by police, then charges defendants under a section that applies to drivers who come to a complete stop and then make a right turn on red at intersections with a “No Turn on Red” sign.

    In many visits to Alameda County traffic courts, reporter Matthew Artz found that the two commissioners used far more discretion than their peers, saving or costing defendants hundreds of dollars in traffic fines.

    Not only is there a wide disparity in the amount of the fines, but the community service alternative has not been an option in Lonsdale’s court. She believes that community service is not a real penalty.

    While lawmakers have reduced judges’ discretion in most criminal matters, traffic commissioners, who are typically lawyers appointed by judges to handle minor cases, still have considerable leeway when it comes to lowering fines.

    It makes little sense to give a traffic court commissioner such wide latitude in levying a prescribed fine.

    Motor vehicle violations are relatively simple and do not have anywhere near the breadth of extenuating circumstances as complex criminal cases.

    In fact, the difference in traffic fines between Porter’s and Lonsdale’s decisions has been so great that one red-light camera opponent, Roger Jones, sometimes hangs around the Fremont courthouse advising offenders to take their tickets to Pleasanton.

    With fines so much lower there, it had been worth the inconvenience to make the drive.

    Now, however, as part of a cost-saving consolidation, both commissioners will be in Fremont, where traffic violators won’t have control over whether they will face the easy judgment of Porter or the no-nonsense justice of Lonsdale.

    That is hardly the best way to prevent judge-shopping by traffic offenders and does nothing to end the disparity in fines for the same offense.

    It is past time for the commissioners or the Alameda County Superior Court to devise a more evenhanded system of fines. Or perhaps the state should expand the number of offenses for which fines cannot be adjusted by traffic court commissioners.

  6. However conflicting the original data (a total sample size of 2)…

    I think the “small sample size” was the crux of the story, dear Box. One Fremont judge reduces fines, one does not.

  7. Isn’t the deterrent to traffic violations the point the violator gets against his driving record?

    The idea that I’m not going to run a red light because the fine is 500 bucks is ridiculous.
    Who the hell runs red lights on purpose?

    There shouldn’t be any fine.

  8. #7

    . . . . and the crux of my counter-point, dear Marty, was that *actionable reporting* (if that was your aim) would have attempted to break the tie and establish some frame of reference to a credible “norm” – as opposed to so blatantly singling out Porter as “lenient”.

    Perhaps BOTH individuals are distanced from common practice. Perhaps Porter’s relative “leniency” is the more common practice.

    For whatever reasons, the reporter sites two extremes and then CHOOSES to characterize one of those two as the problem – – – he does so when he characterizes one as “lenient” – suggesting to the reader that, it is, Porter who might need to change behavior.

    What’s curious is WHY, Artz and Argus chose to single out Porter as the problem. Why isn’t Lonsdale the overbearing and punitive one? This point is further underscored when we learn that it is Porter’s relative leniency that actually returns a greater benefit to the local community in the form of volunteer hours.
    Conversly, Lonsdale’s heavy-handedness does a nice job of bringing increased revenue to RedFlex and their bottom line.

  9. Scratch that – – – last para in #10 SHOULD be –

    What’s curious is WHY, Artz and Argus chose to single out*Lonsdale* as the problem. Why isn’t Porter the overbearing and punitive one?

    This point is further underscored when we learn that it is Lonsdale’s relative leniency that actually returns a greater benefit to the local community in the form of volunteer hours.

    Conversly, Porters’s heavy-handedness does a nice job of bringing increased revenue to RedFlex and their bottom line.

  10. *Lonsdale* is just one of a number of judges who turn a blind eye when the police drop the ball…same as it ever was, Boxie you are right for once, it’s all about bringing in the increased revenue!

  11. #12 –

    . .. . and the “reporting” was a clear effort to promote Redflex and their automated billing machines.

    Meanwhile, back on the tri-city front – Fremont can’t figure out how to extend the duration of their yellows and can’t send the equivalent of a parking ticket to residential alarms violators.

  12. Lonsdale’s relative leniency… Porters’s heavy-handedness…

    Box, do you have the cast of characters confused here?

  13. I would like to know if Judge Porter is giving discounted fines to voilation on ‘not stopping at red when turning right”. I got one today and was wondering how to deal with this

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *