A while back I got a traffic ticket in Westfield. Long story not worth telling, but it was knocked down to having no insurance card in the car. (My insurance company didn’t include the new card with the policy renewal packet and I forgot about it. When I got pulled over, the one in the car had expired three days earlier.)

I probably shouldn’t complain – it was no points and the police officer behaved professionally. But bottom line, the ticket was expensive. And I had a good argument to fight it.

Turns out in the state system and on the ticket, there is an asterisk indicating that having no insurance card is not payable (see laws Sept 2004 to present). I checked for the ticket in njmcdirect.com and it wasn’t there.

Since it said it wasn’t payable, I forgot about it.

A couple weeks later I get the mean notice saying I forgot my court date. Huh? So I called and scheduled one. Westfield has a “systems limitation” that if you don’t have just your insurance card, it is same as if you don’t have your license and registration and owe the fine. But since the state literature and the ticket said that wasn’t the case…. I felt I could beat it.

At 8:45 I arrived at the Westfield Municipal Building. I and about 30 others signed in and got screened and then sat down and waited until 9:20 for the judge.

The judge outlined the process is a speech she must have given 800 times (it showed) and she indicated that the cases that had attorneys present would go first.  The first step for us regular folks would be to meet with the prosecutor and see if we could work something out.  If we couldn’t then we would have a trial. The prosecutor would see us in the order we signed in.

So we left the court room and queued up in the adjoining hallway to see the prosecutor. A sizable portion of the crowd were retirees who were looking to avoid points on their license. Most of us stood.

And we stood. At 10:30 the line started moving a little. Finally at 11:15 (I had budgeted until 1:00) the attorney stuff was finished, or so we thought, and a couple more of the regular folks got in. The prosecutor would occasionally flit over to the clerks office, usually coming back with another cup of coffee. One of the clerks told us it would move a lot more quickly now.

Most of the people left their meeting with the prosecutor smiling. It crept along. One lady could be heard having a pitched argument for about 15 minutes. In my mind, I was thinking “just give up so this gets moving”. Even she smiled when she left.

At 12:30 they weren’t even up to the 10th person. I was almost 20th. What the hell? I asked at the clerks office what was up. I was told that since there was a trial that day with a public defender, that slowed things down. Sorry.

I was actually one of the more subdued ones at that point. A bunch of the other people waiting were becoming cell-phone throwing lunatics or rocked back and forth, muttering under their breath. I had work to do. A lot, actually. Even with my good argument, I paid the fine and left since I couldn’t afford to make my good argument at 4:15.

I understand that to reduce the number of disputed tickets, it shouldn’t be so easy. But why should I have to take an entire day off to do it? Why couldn’t they have realized that the attorney cases would take a long time that day and enable us to reschedule when they knew – say at 10:00? Or maybe set aside some time for regular people and allocate a different time slot for attorney cases?

But no. 15 really pissed people standing in the hallway for hours on end was preferable.

I haven’t had a ticket in Cranford yet, so I can’t comment on any of the process. But Westfield definitely didn’t impress.

And that is what they get for their property taxes. And their sketchy traffic fines.

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