governing for the convenience of governmentHere's my favorite ongoing example of government putting its own wants ahead of the interests of the people it serves. And you probably don't know about it, is the best part.
In 1993, the California legislature "decriminalized" parking citations, freeing the state's crowded courts from hearing most challenges to those tickets. The state instead developed a new system of checks and balances to protect wrongly cited drivers, requiring that contested tickets be reviewed by the agencies that issued those tickets. Drivers are allowed an appeal, also to the same agency that issued the ticket, and then may finally take their tickets to court as a second appeal.
But the gate to the courthouse is strong: Drivers have to pay the ticket and a court filing fee to have their challenge heard as a civil matter, and the appeal to the court has to be properly formatted and collated before the court clerk will accept it. Given the barriers to entry, I suspect that most people with bullshit tickets don't bother to take them to court. Remarkably, I haven't been able to find any study by the state or a court on the number of parking citations being contested; the law was implemented and forgotten, left to run however it ran.
Fourteen years after decriminalization, most cities don't employ their own parking review "adjudicators." Rather, an industry of for-profit contractors has grown up from the rich soil of effectively unreviewed and lawless "citations" issued by cash-hungry cities and other government organizations. I emailed a sales representative at one of those companies, ACS, to ask for the marketing materials they send to cities that are looking for parking management services. The brochure they emailed -- not available online, sadly -- predictably promises that ACS will maximize fine revenues for client cities. And, yes, they offer "adjudication" services.
So here's your protection against wrongful citation and the government bullshitting up a ticket so it can get into your pocket for forty-five dollars: A private contractor, who works for the people who ticketed you and has sold his or her services by promising to squeeze more cash out of your pockets, will evaluate your claim that you have been mistakenly cited.
What could go wrong?
Better yet, other safeguards are also eroding. The state Vehicle Code requires that citations include the last four digits of your car's vehicle identification number, or VIN, in addition to your license plate number, to help catch license plate transcription errors. I got a ticket, a few weeks ago, and my VIN -- my plainly readable VIN -- didn't appear on the ticket. So I used the state's public records law to review other citations written by the same officer, and guess what?
And I can't say that I blame him. If you knew the "adjudicator" was on your side, would you bother to follow the law?
So here we have a perfect example of an instance in which government, finding it inconvenient to follow the law, and finding it time-consuming to provide a system of due process, opts out. Shuts down its checks and balances. Tips the scales in its own direction.
And the result?
More revenue, more easily obtained.
And how many people even realize what happened, or why it matters?