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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Case Over Ticket Inspection Dismissed

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - A federal judge in Oakland has dismissed on standing grounds an action brought by a man who wanted to examine traffic tickets in Contra Costa County for racial bias.

Judge Phyllis Hamilton found that the plaintiff had not been denied his request and therefore his case was not ripe for decision.

"With regard to subject matter jurisdiction, it is evident from the facts alleged that plaintiff's request has not been denied," Hamilton wrote. "Thus, his claims are not yet ripe, and he lacks Article II standing because he has not yet suffered an injury"

The plaintiff, Jason Robertson, wanted to examine a month's-worth of traffic tickets in Contra Costa County. In his written request for inspection of the records, he said he wanted to look at the tickets to see if law enforcement authorities are "singling out minorities in greater percentages than recent census data would predict."

Contra Costa, which owes its name to its location across the bay from San Francisco County, is 51 percent white and 22 percent Latino, according to city-data.com. Racial tension has been an issue for several communities in the area, such as Antioch, a 162-year-old suburb that swore in its first black mayor in 2012.

Robertson heard little about his records request until Aug. 29, when a court official said the records would not be ready by Sept. 4. Over a month later, the court's executive officer, Kiri Torre, wrote Robertson that his request was still under review.

The letter noted that there were several factors that might warrant denial of the request, including statutory privacy concerns.

Robertson interpreted the letter as a denial of his request and his lawyer sued the court claiming California law required it to provide the information he requested.

"If the court had actually denied Robertson's request for access to the public records to which he is entitled under the law, "the claim would be ripe, certainly, and he might have standing to assert a First Amendment claim (assuming he could show an injury)," wrote Hamilton.

"In this case, however, the Superior Court advised plaintiff several times between July 24, 2012 when it received plaintiff's request, and October 5, 2012, when Ms. Torre wrote plaintiff to explain the court's concern with privacy issues, and to request additional information regarding the nature of plaintiff's project, that it was still evaluating the request," said the judge.

The plaintiff is represented by James Chadwick of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP in Palo Alto. Erica Lynn Reilley of Jones Day in Los Angeles represented the court.

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