A Point of Law
(Mel wasn't going to hold still for
 highway robbers.)

Ripping a page from the 1971 California Vehicle Code book, I enclosed it, along with a check, and a letter protesting the excessive bail, in a stamped envelope addressed to the Livingston, California Justice Court. I'd been hauling some frozen produce at the time. The load had shifted, making it about 1000 lbs. over on the axel. The Livingston Judge had doubled the amount required by state law. It was only around $24, so when the extra money wasn't returned I didn't press the matter. It burned me to think that his court was probably raking it in, since a lot of trucks weigh in at the Livingston scales. I'd hauled a lot of commodities during my twenty years as an owner operator, but this was the first time a Judge ever hit me with excessive bail.

Six years later, on July 26, 1977, while hauling logs in Yuba County, California, I got an overload ticket for 3,200 lbs. The scales were not on level ground, and my truck was in a turning position when the patrolman weighed it. He wouldn't let me straighten it out, stating that it would make no difference. I figured the trailer was 2,000 lbs. over instead of 3,200. The drivers were almost 2,000 lbs light.

The Marysville, California Justice Court notified me that bail for the overload was set at $250, and the court date was August 18, at 8:30 in the morning. I could have mailed the bail, and forgot about it like the other time, but it was a little hard to swallow, since the maximum fine was supposed to be $30 plus another $10 for driver's education. I decided I wasn't going to hold still for highway robbers!

Past experience taught me to stay away from lawyers, because every time I ever got tangled up with one I always paid through the nose. Whenever I took the time to personally do my legal business, it always came out in my favor. Maybe this would be the exception to the rule from a financial standpoint.

On August 10 I wrote a letter to Assemblyman Gene Chappie explaining my dilemma, and mentioned that the Judge may have acted unconstitutionally. I cited the ex post facto clause of the United States Constitution (Article 1. Section 9:3) that makes it unlawful to raise the grade of an offence, or increase the punishment, after the offence was committed....from what the law specified at the time. I was grabbing for a life line, in the dark, and needed an answer before August 18.

The Assemblyman and I never got together, so on August 17 I phoned his office. Mr. Chappie was in Downieville, so I talked to his assistant. He told me that the legislative council felt that the Judge could technically set the bail anywhere he wanted, but the actual fine had to be according to the book.

The following morning, instead of hauling logs, I went to court....hoping that someone had merely made a mistake in setting the bail. When my name was called, I took my place in front of the Judge, and suggested that a mistake had been made with my bail. He raised his voice angrily, for the first time that morning.

"I don't think so! You're a habitual over-loader! You got a citation in 1974, 1975 and in 1976.....I know what you do....You overload all the time, and get caught once in a while, and make money at it!"

I tried to explain that it's impossible to load correctly all the time. The log landings aren't level, and if it isn't level the truck scales won't be accurate. I wanted to tell him that I hauled anywhere's from three to five loads a day during the season. That I've been weighed four or five times and been legal, for every ticket I've received, but they don't keep records on those. The Judge wouldn't listen to anything I said. Instead he offered to cut the bail in half if I would plead guilty. That was still $110 too much, so I pled not guilty, and paid the $150 bail that the court demanded. I would have to go through one more legal farce of judicial decree in order to not forfeit bail. The Judge wanted to prove his theory about greedy truckers who make money overloading. By forcing me to take time off the job, I was losing more money than if I had gone along with his corrupt court order. I had a moral obligation that made me go through it this time.

In the days that followed, I gathered up all the evidence, make copies, and mailed it to Assemblyman Chappie's office. The Judge had cited tickets for the three previous years. They were all minimum overloads, and the patrolman had made a mistake in his math on one of the tickets, plus the law had changed so that no one knew what was legal. These were included for the councils investigation. Everyone waited for the Judge's final decision.

Meanwhile, I decided to read up on the U. S. Constitution, and discovered Article 8. "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed,
nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted." The legislative Council had been wrong! I told them, and they agreed that I was right. They would keep an eye on things. The Judge had used his judicial power to force me into court two times, because he also believed he could use the technical point of bail as a legal weapon to frighten me, and deprive me of my earnings. He took an oath to uphold the Constitution, and instead....he broke the law! He was subject to a higher court if I wanted to press charges. I would rather publish this story so that others would benefit from my experience.
The end came on September 22 when I appeared for trial. Another Judge officiated, and told me that it never should have happened. He apologized for inconveniencing me. The $110 over-payment was refunded to me a month later.
Sometime later, another log trucker told me that Judge had gone back and added up years of previous fines he'd paid and made him pay them again as bail.
There's an old saying that "If you tell a story long enough, and often enough...others repeat it, and after awhile everyone takes it for granted that the lie is the truth." Everyone talked about the law, and repeated the interpretation by specialists, and the interpretation was accepted as the law. Constitutional government is concerned about the protection of the individual citizen. My experience made me realize that many people in the legal profession don't know much about the law of the land, so it's a good idea to check on it personally before accepting someone else's word for it. If I had it to do over, I would have mailed the Judge a check for $40 and let it go from there.
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