|by Richard Quigley
Nine years, and three published court opinions later, the court battle against the California helmet law looks like it's got new life. Whether the front-line contingent in this battle will ultimately be known as a "Dream Team" or a "Confederacy of Dunces" has as much to do with our ability to get along, as it does with our combined legal skills. If this latest vagueness challenge is going to be the prevailing strategy, "bygones" is almost surely going to have to be the prevailing mantra.
Over the last year and a half, I have managed to amass over a dozen and a half citations because the various police agencies in and around Santa Cruz County do not know how to recognize a helmet when they see one. Their confusion arose from the particular helmet style I have chosen to wear -- a baseball-cap-looking helmet that the various officers just couldn't wrap themselves around.
Not only do the citations provide some of the requisite evidence of the confusion over what constitutes a helmet, but the citations also brought into focus a little known, mostly ignored, fact that according to California statutes, helmet tickets are correctable equipment violations -- $10 fix-it tickets (with no practical way to correct). At arraignment, I asked that the court dismiss the charges as infractions, and allow me to have them processed instead as fix-it tickets, pursuant to the statutes. The courts declined, opening the door for a civil action to force the courts, and the police, to write helmet tickets as correctable equipment violations as the law requires.
Skip Raring -- who made his reputation in the biker community by winning (Easyriders Case) the only injunction ever issued against an enforcement practice adopted by the California Highway Patrol in their 75-year history, an injunction forbidding them from enforcing the helmet law in a manner inconsistent with the statutes -- has agreed to be the lead attorney in an action for "Declaratory Relief" to be filed in the Santa Cruz County Superior Court sometime between now and mid-December. With such a track record, his name as lead attorney on the case will most certainly effect how the courts will be inclined to treat the pleadings and attend the arguments. Skip's experience with the issues is invaluable.
The second attorney on the case is Marc Schwartz (www.bikerattorney.com). I ran into Marc while doing some research in the Santa Cruz County Law Library. He and I started talking, and when he discovered what I had been doing, and why, he decided to take a look at the chances for success. Once he was convinced that we had a better-than-not chance of victory, and because as a life-long biker he hates helmet laws, he also agreed to sign on (also pro bono). Even beyond the legal expertise Marc brings to the fight, he happens to live here in Santa Cruz, thereby removing one of the major obstacles for Raring -- the expense of maintaining an action in a court so far from his home in Southern California. Marc can cover any minor appearances here, and perhaps some of the local depositions, leaving Skip to come in to join him for the major appearances. The two have met (on the phone) and agreed to work on the case, and on a strategy with which they are both comfortable. We couldn't be luckier!
The tape recordings that I made of the traffic stops that led to the citations are another major factor that make all this possible. Much of the evidence that we need to show the vagueness of the helmet law, is on those tapes. The citing officers said some stuff that you'll have to hear (or read) to believe. Check the BOLT of California web site (www.usff.com/calbolt/). The cost of getting the statements made on those tapes by the officers, in deposition, would have been prohibitive, if it could have been obtained anywhere except on the street, at the time of the stop, at all.
Steve Bianco will also be involved in working on various aspects of the case, with particular focus on the vagueness issue . . . which he has long (if not first) maintained will deal the final, fatal blow to first California's (and then all states') helmet law. Bianco has been a major contributing factor to many of the elements that we will be bringing to the courts in this case, and will be heavily involved in this (for lack of a better word) joint effort. The things I bring to this case, I bring because of what I learned from Steve. If we win in part because of them, it is he, not I, who should deserve whatever credit is due for the perspective.
The final facilitating and encouraging factor in this effort is the announced participation of ABATE of California (www.abate.org). With ABATE coming on board as additional plaintiffs in the court action, the issues become state-wide issues, and the decision becomes a state-wide decision, not just one affecting me in Santa Cruz County. Over the last year, there have been members of ABATE of California that have been cited for wearing what the police decided were sub-standard helmets. Their cases will bolster the issue of vagueness. Moreover, all the tickets -- mine and theirs -- will show that as a matter of course, the police and the courts are not dealing with the citations as fix-it tickets, as the law requires, anywhere in California. An issue of state-wide concern has feet all the way to the California Supreme Court!
All in all, it is my opinion that this is the first, best chance we have had to take the helmet law down in the courts since day one. Albeit what some might consider just a slight chance, the individuals and groups that have come together, and the elements that have come to light, should allow even the most skeptical among bikers to have realistic hope for success.
Here's to the future!
Richard "quig" Quigley
Bikers Of Lesser Tolerance
Helmet Law Defense League
United States Freedom Fighters