Today was a big day. I had been preparing for this day for six months.
Today was the day I fought the law.
It all started in August, on my birthday, as a matter of fact. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I decided to take my kids to a place called Memphis Kiddie Park. This park is a great place with small rides and the oldest operating steel roller coaster in North America. It’s a manageable size and you can just walk in and buy tickets for rides like a fair. It’s the perfect place to take preschoolers, and it’s really affordable. I highly recommend it, as long as you can get past the creepy clown sign.
Anyhow, after letting my kids spin themselves dizzy and filling them up with sugar, I decided that it was a great day to take the long way home, take our time, and see what there was to see.
Long story short, there wasn’t much to see at all. The neighborhoods between our house and Memphis Kiddie Park feature many liquor stores, food marts, gas stations, and peeling paint. But it was still a beautiful enough day to let the windows down and just take it slow.
Which is why I was surprised when, two weeks later, I received a speeding citation in the mail asking for $100. A nice, blurry, black and white picture of my car served as proof of my mistake. The citation stated I drove 36 mph in a 25 zone. The ticket demanded immediate payment, unless I wanted to schedule a hearing to contest the charges. The city citing me was Linndale, Ohio.
My first thought was “Where in the hell is Linndale?” I decided to look it up, and this is how I fell down the rabbit hole.
Linndale is a town of notoriety to the west of, yet still inside, Cleveland. It’s technically a village, and it barely registers on a map. Its population is estimated at 179 people living in 37 houses, with the most modern home being built in 1968. It’s barely anything at all, and they barely have any businesses in the village to speak of.
So how does such a non-city exist without much of a commercial district? It turns out that everyone in Cleveland knows to stay away from Linndale because they will nail you for speeding.
The story goes back for decades. The original battleground was on the 422 yards of Interstate 71 that moves through Linndale. Police would camp out there and nail driver after driver for exceeding the ridiculously low 60mph speed limit. Linndale police would nail so many drivers on that stretch of road that Linndale ended up with the busiest Mayor’s Court in the entire state of Ohio. On top of this, these speeding fines amounted to 80% of the city’s million dollar annual revenue.
Linndale and Ohio’s state government fought back and forth for decades about the stretch of highway and Linndale’s right to issue citations on it. The difficulty was that Linndale, though it had 422 yards of I-71 in its village limits, had no points of entry or exit from 71, meaning that the Linndale Police department had to leave their own city limits in order to issue citations. Eventually, the fight ended up with the governor passing legislation moving Linndale’s mayor’s court to the nearby city of Parma, where the cases were consistently thrown out. Linndale’s main source of income took quite a hit.
To compensate for this, Linndale installed traffic cameras. The main one that causes controversy is on a short stretch of Memphis Blvd, which happened to be the route I took home on my birthday. This camera monitors traffic speeds for a section of road that has a sudden change of speed limit to 25mph while before and after it are all 35mph limits. I was tagged for going 36mph. And as you can imagine, I entered and left Linndale without even noticing.
I brought my grievances to Facebook, and everyone agreed with me. Some even just laughed at the fact that I didn’t know about the camera beforehand. I was raised in Akron, so I had no idea. But these cameras have taken the income lost by the police not monitoring a tiny stretch of 71, and increased it to well over a million dollars annually. Think about it: the cameras just tag people and send fines. If twenty cars all go through the 25mph zone at 36mph with the flow of traffic, then that is two thousand dollars worth of fines issued in just a couple of minutes.
The problem with speeding tickets in Linndale has gotten so bad, the city had its own feature on NPR’s internationally syndicated show, This American Life: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/629/expect-delays.
Needless to say, I wasn’t going to stand for this shit.
I got right on the village’s automated system and looked up my citation. I found the button to schedule a hearing, and I clicked it with authority. I immediately received a scheduled date, which was today, February 7th, 2019…six months later. That’s how long the line is to contest a ticket in Linndale. But I would wait. Oh yes, and when the time came, I would let them have it.
I had my case all worked up. The lawyer genes I inherited from my father kicked into high gear. I planned my entire defense out…
- The cameras only trigger when 36mph is reached, so I could have been within a tenth of a mile per hour of not receiving a ticket. So, with this in mind, who monitors these cameras? When was the last time they were calibrated? How do they know the traffic conditions at the time? Could I have been speeding up to achieve a safe place to get out of the way of a passing ambulance? I didn’t get to speak with an officer, so how could any of this be determined?
- At 36mph, I was obviously not in a hurry. And seeing the appropriate routes on a map, I was not taking the fastest way home by far. If I were in a hurry, I wouldn’t have taken that route in the first place. And, with the surrounding speed limits being 35mph, I obviously was driving safely and carefully.
- How can they justify a fine of $100 for a one mile per hour infraction? Am I being charged with the same amount as someone caught going 40? 50? How is the fine in this case appropriate at all?
- The citation was on my birthday…can’t they just give a guy a break? (I planned on giving a great big smile after this desperate defense, kinda like the one on my driver’s license.)
I prepared my case and tacked my hearing date on the wall in the kitchen. I saw through their strategy. If I didn’t show up, that would be considered a guilty plea. So I had six months to forget about my hearing date and miss it. But not this guy. I was ready to wait and pounce when the time came.
When February rolled around, I realized trouble was coming. My hearing was scheduled on a Thursday at 1pm, and I had planned on having someone watch the kids briefly while I stuck it to the man. Unfortunately, the rest of my entire house came down with some serious upper respiratory infections. My two and four year old are still sick. My day came for the trial of the century, and I had two sick kids with nowhere to keep them.
I tried calling the number to reschedule. I wondered if they’d give me a new date in 2020. I had to leave a message, and they didn’t call me back until 12:30pm…my appointment was in 30 minutes. They said it was too late to reschedule. Surprise, surprise. So I did what any loving father with two sick kids would do…
I piled them into the car and took them with me. If the Village of Linndale was going to charge me $100, then I was going to throw a respiratory virus their way. Take that!
The kids really weren’t that sick. Plenty of energy at this point, just the occasional burst of coughing. And I have trained them to cough into their arms because I’m a good person. And good people shouldn’t get bullshit speeding fines from Big Brother.
As we drove to Linndale, I used the time in the car to make the situation into a lesson for my daughter. I told her that police are there to protect us, and when we break the rules on the road, we should pay the amount of money that the police tell us to. But, if we don’t think we broke any rules, or if we think we aren’t being treated fair, we can go to the court and STICK IT TO THE MAN! I think she understood at least part of it. I spent the rest of the car ride rehearsing my defense strategy as stated above.
Today was my first time going to Linndale intentionally. Oh man, it is tiny but creepy. If you’re paying attention, you can tell where the village begins because there are stoplight and traffic cameras everywhere. Seriously. Every single stoplight had a traffic camera attached with a blinking blue light. And the city is just older houses and the occasional weird business or temple of some sort.
Despite the tininess of the village, it was difficult to find the town hall, as it wasn’t much larger than the houses on either side of it. It was on a side street and there were no signs directing anyone to it. If it weren’t for the line of cars vying for spots out front, I might have passed it on the first round.
As I pulled in, I realized that there were a lot of people lining up to get inside, and all of them were no doubt there for the same reason. I rushed the kids in, signed in, and we waited.
As we sat there, my kids were actually quite good and sweet. My daughter kept asking how long we would be, but she did so in a nice, quiet way. The mood was odd in there, and both of my kids could sense it. We sat in three folding chairs as a woman in the front called people up one at a time to go off into another room and plead their case. One man started yelling for a moment until the officer stepped into the doorway. I did my best to keep calm, make my kids feel at ease, and rehearse my case. I wasn’t about to raise my voice, but I sure as shit wasn’t going to pay $100!
I had never been in a court before. I’ve never even had a jury summons before. I didn’t really know what to expect, but all I knew was that I had planned and planned and planned for this day for half of my 39th year of life, and I was going to nail my defense, damnit! I even had a number in mind…$20. I wasn’t going to accept a fine over $20. Things moved fairly quickly, much to my surprise. Finally, they called my name.
I walked up to the front of the courtroom and the woman pointed to my right. My heart rate increased. I tensed up. I was thrilled to express my rights as a citizen and go to my own defense. Every bit of planning and anticipation built up to that moment. I turned right and entered a room with a large man sitting at a desk with a stern, serious face. He had the kind of no bullshit look I worried could break me.
“Mr. Haase?” the man said the same way a curmudgeonly neighbor might ask some pesky kids “Is this your frisbee in my yard?”
“Yes sir,” I said. And to ease the tension, I introduced my two kids as my lawyers. He laughed. I felt better instantly. A little humor always helps the words come out. I took a deep breath in as I prepared to regurgitate the defense I had spent the last six months building up.
“Is this their first case?” the man asked, playing along.
“Well, they did a great job. We determined shortly after your infraction that it was inconsequential, so we dismissed it but failed to send you a notice. Your case is dismissed.”
“No charge?” I asked.
“No. Have a good day.”
After six months of build up and research and preparation, they had already dismissed my charge back in September. But maybe they were just seeing if I would show up and then send me a bill if I didn’t. So I’m still taking credit for the victory.
I fought the law today, and I WON.
Eat your heart out, Joe Strummer.