ACLU Sues Solano County Over Traffic Fine Policy

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FAIRFIELD -- The Northern California American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against Solano County over it's handling of unpaid traffic tickets.

Like other counties, when a violator doesn't pay traffic fines or fail to appear in court, their cases are sent to the Department of Motor Vehicles for an automatic suspension of the driver's license.

But the ACLU contends that state statutes only allow the transfers if the driver purposely evades paying. It contends that those who are unable to pay because they don't have the money must be treated differently.

Most of the cases involve the poor, says the ACLU, especially since municipalities tacted on fees to traffic tickets to raise more money for their budgets.

"Our courts should not be funding their own operations on the backs of poor people and that's exactly what this system has come to do," says ACLU attorney Michaela Davis.

Roman Malabed waited outside the Solano County Courthouse after dealing with a drivers license suspension in 2012. At about the same time he was saddled with medical bills after he the victim of a violent robbery and suffered a broken jaw.

He agrees with the ACLU's contention that people who don't have the means to pay should be given payment options and have a procedure that demonstrate a person's inability to pay.

"They should definitely give us a chance to repay them with a payment plan, payment option...rather than turning it to the DMV right away and letting them suspend the license," said Malabed.

Malabed says not being able to drive hinders his ability to find a job and pay the fees and fines required to get his license back.

"The loss of a drivers license pushes people deeper into the cycle of unemployment and poverty," said Davis.

The ACLU also says the practice disproportionately affects minorities. Solano County was chosen for the lawsuit even though the practice is common among many cities. While many counties have delayed sending cases to the DMV until procedures are reviewed, the ACLU said Solano County was not receptive to consider changes.

Solano County Court officials say the cannot discuss an on-going litigation. A hearing has been scheduled on the lawsuit in October.