Opinion: Expensive ticket

POSTED: 02/7/13 1:02 PM

When police officers ticketed gossip writer Bibi Saliva Shaw for using a cell phone while she was driving her car on October 30 of last year on the A.J.C. Brouwers Road, it seemed an open and shut case. Not with Shaw, of course.

First, the queen of local gossip attempted to involve Justice Minister Roland Duncan to get her off the hook and when that did not work, she decided to contest the ticket in court. For good measure, she filed a complaint with the internal affairs department of the police because she felt the officers had been rude to her.

The Court in First Instance was lenient enough to grant Shaw and her attorney  Brenda Brooks the opportunity to hear the two police officers under oath in open court. That did not end well for the defendant, who’ll turn 50 in April. But we’ll get to that.

One of the officers testified in court that he had ticketed Shaw “because she was driving on a public road with a phone stuck to her ear.”

The patrol car was driving in the direction of Cole Bay. The officers spotted Shaw coming from the opposite direction using her phone. They turned around, switched on their flashing lights and their siren and pursued the car. Shaw pulled in at the Harold Jack parking and the officers blocked the exit before approaching her.

“I was on the telephone, my son is retarded and there is a hurricane in New York, I have to arrange something” was part of the explanation Shaw gave the officer. At least, that’s what the officer declared under oath.

The officers also said that Shaw became aggressive and loud. When they asked the woman for a brief explanation about why she was on the phone, she started hitting one of the officers on his hand and on his clipboard, telling him that he had to write down what she said.

The officer asked the gossip writer not to disrespect him, and that she then apologized. After he showed the explanation he had written down, Shaw agreed with it.

Attorney Brooks wanted to know why the officer had told Shaw something like “This is a traffic control” before issuing the ticket. Answer: that’s standard procedure.

Both officers testified that they had seen Shaw with the phone stuck to her ear while she was driving.

After the testimonies of both police officers, Shaw presented a fresh angle to the story: she claimed that the officers did not come from the opposite direction, but that they were behind her when she passed the roundabout at the bottom of the hill in Cole Bay. She also claimed, contrary to the sworn testimony by the two officers that they had never told her that she was subject to a traffic control.

Judge  Tamara Tijhuis was quick to point out that Shaw had not said during the earlier court hearing that the officers came from the roundabout in Cole Bay. “You are telling me that these officers are inventing this story. Why would they do a thing like that?” the Judge remarked. Answer: “I have no idea.” Later it turned out that Shaw did have an idea, but that one did not fall on fertile ground with the court.

Prosecutor  Tineke Kamps was the first one to point out that the defendant was within her rights to hear the officers as witnesses. “It is not our intention to impose unwarranted fines.”

The prosecutor also noted that the officers “had gone out of their way” to score the ticket. After all, they had to turn their car on the hill and pursue the defendant. But the junior officer told the court that this is not an unusual practice.

The prosecutor said that there was not a single reason to doubt the statements the two police officers had made. Though she was careful not to say this, the remark portrayed Shaw’s version of what transpired as a web of lies.

The prosecutor furthermore stated that Shaw did not have a valid reason to be on the phone while she was driving. “I am surprised about this. If you get caught, just pay your fine and be done with it.”

The prosecutor demanded a slightly higher fine for the offense, of 225 guilders.

Attorney Brooks said that the trip to court was “a matter of principle” for her client and that she went to all this trouble “because she feels that she is the victim of what she writes.”

The attorney maintained the position that Shaw had not been on the phone and that she only started calling after she had pulled into the parking lot.

Shaw attempted in vain to add some drama by claiming her victimhood, because of what she recently wrote about the prosecutor’s office – overlooking the fact that the ticket dates from before the moment she started to publish baseless accusations about the prosecutor’s office perceived “incompetencies.” But when the defendant wanted to drag last week’s incident into the mix when she was thrown out of the courtroom for violating courtroom rules, Judge Tijhuis pulled the plug, saying that the case at hand is about the traffic violation and about nothing else.

“If you see personal vendettas then that is very annoying,” the Judge said. “But I am not able to do anything with that. The question we are dealing with here is whether the ticket you received is justified. You are convinced of your opinion. On the other hand, I have two police officers who made statements under oath. I do not see any reason to doubt those statements.”

The Judge made a brief reference to Shaw’s claim that the officers had not read her her rights. “I do not know whether this is so, but it does not make any difference.”

The Judge ruled that there is sufficient proof that Shaw was on the phone while she was driving. She did not follow the prosecutor’s demand to issue a higher fine, based on her standard strategy that everybody has the right to tell her or his story in court to contest a fine.

So, after almost two hours, the non-event ended with a 150 guilders fine. If Shaw does not pay, she’ll have to go 6 days to jail.

At the end of the day, this was a fine example of how the justice system works – and it works well. It does not matter who you are (or who you think you are): everybody is able to have his or her day in court, but success is obviously not guaranteed.

The tendency to deny accusations is not new: it happens all the time in criminal court. But lies do not perform well in front of an impartial judge, though Shaw will of course have her own opinion about this. All in all, an expensive ticket, if the attorney fees (Brooks charges $200 per hour) are counted, plus the lost working hours for the defendant, plus the time the court had to waste on this matter. As we wrote before: what a wonderful country we live in.

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