Road law
It would be funny if it weren't true

By Jeff McConnell and James Mennella, attorneys at law

At Road Law, we do a lot of what’s officially called "administrative law." The Oxford Dictionary defines it as "the body of law that regulates the operation and procedures of government agencies." So, without all the legal mumbo jumbo, the real definition of "administrative law" is more like "figuring out how to satisfy the bureaucrat you’re dealing with at the time."

There’s probably no group of people on the planet that knows more about dealing with bureaucrats than Class A drivers and trucking companies. To prove this point, we’re going to share a story about a recent, red-light camera assessment that one of our clients received and the absolute nonsense we went through to satisfy every last bureaucrat involved.

I got a red-light camera ticket in Tennessee. The fine was only $50, but I didn’t want it on my driving record so I pleaded not guilty and went to court. When I went to court, the judge agreed to dismiss my ticket if I paid $80 in costs. So I did.

Yesterday, I got a collection letter in the mail from a law firm in Toledo, Ohio, telling me that I owe $130 on my ticket now and if I don’t pay it, they might sue me. When I called the court clerk in Tennessee to ask why I got a collection letter, she told me she didn’t know. The court clerk did tell me that I should have sent my $80 payment to the "Photo Enforcement Payment Center," and not to the court.

How was I supposed to know that? How can a law firm in Ohio tell me I haven’t paid my ticket in Tennessee when I have a receipt from the court? What’s going on here? What do I do?

First, you didn’t really get a "ticket," but only an "assessment" notice. We’re not just being picky lawyers when we say there’s a real difference between a "ticket" and an "assessment."

A "ticket" is usually issued by some kind of human law enforcement officer because the officer or some witness alleges you did something wrong while driving. If you simply decide to pay your ticket, the listed charge becomes a conviction and is usually reported from the court to the state DMV and then to your home state. Once your home state DMV receives your conviction, your moving or non-moving violation is placed on your permanent driver record along with driver points (if your home state has a driver point system) and, in some cases, CSA points.

Second, what you got was a red-light "camera assessment notice" and a photo of your truck allegedly running a red light. There was no human cop, no human witness, just a camera photo of a vehicle allegedly running a red light.

Now, let’s be honest; the towns and cities that use these "camera assessments" say they do it to "protect the public." Bulls---!

The real purpose of these "camera assessments" is to raise a lot of money for these towns and cities. But the good news is that, in most cases, these assessments can’t end up as convictions on your driver record, can’t assess driver or CSA points, and can’t be used to damage your credit rating even if you don’t pay the assessment.

Now, we would usually never recommend not paying the fine and costs on an original traffic ticket, an amended ticket, or a ticket you were found guilty of. But a camera assessment is not a ticket. Again, a camera assessment is only a civil, monetary penalty. If you simply ignore it, there’s usually not much the bureaucrats that issued the assessment can do about it.

So, if you don’t pay a camera assessment, will you get a collection notice from some debt-collector lawyer? Maybe. Should you ignore a debt-collection notice issued for not paying a camera assessment? We say "yes." But, as with a lot of drivers who call us about these notices, if you’re the type of person who will continue to worry about something like this, then paying off a collection notice from a camera assessment may be better than the stress. It’s your call.

Back to the case at hand. When you mistakenly sent your $80 assessment fee to the court, the court clerk sent your $80 to the "Photo Enforcement Program Payment Center," or PEPPC. When the PEPPC got your $80 instead of the $50 amount listed on your original assessment, it was mistakenly coded as a "late fee" payment. Because the payment center mistakenly coded your $80 as a late fee and not as payment for the original assessment, they sent notice of non-payment to their collection agent – i.e., a law firm in Ohio, which then sent you a collection notice for the original amount and another late fee.

To correct this mess, get a copy of the original Tennessee court order as proof that the judge agreed to dismiss your assessment with an $80 payment. Then send this information, along with proof of your $80 payment, directly to the Ohio law firm collection agent. Do not try to work this problem out with a payment center as you will not succeed. Your problem is with the collection agent now, and usually once the collection agent receives a judge’s order of dismissal and proof of payment of the required costs, your collection case will be resolved.

Send any questions or comments regarding transportation law to: Jeff McConnell and James Mennella, Road Law, 3441 W. Memorial, Suite 4, Oklahoma City, OK 73134; call 405-242-2030, fax 888-588-8983, or email roadlaw@att.net.

This column is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Land Line Magazine or its publisher. Please remember everyone's legal situation is different. Consult with an attorney for specific advice on your situation.