In the month-and-a-half since we published "L.A. City Council Says You Don't Have to Pay Your Red-Light Camera Tickets," we've received dozens of panicked emails from drivers who were caught red-handed, squeaking through an L.A. intersection.
"I wanted to confirm if in fact I am not obligated to pay this ticket," reads one such note. "Do yo know the consequences of not paying the ticket or where could I get more information about this matter?"
We've been asking ourselves, and many evasive officials, the same question for wayyy too long now. It's time to clear this thing up for good.
Sherman Ellison, a star L.A. attorney and longtime skeptic of the Superior Court's biggest moneymaker -- traffic tickets -- says that, in his exhaustive search for an answer to this question, he has deduced that:
"It won't go on your DMV record. It won't go on your credit record. But it will remain in Superior Court as an unresolved matter."
So, in choosing whether or not to pay your humongous, highly irritating $470 ticket, "it's a function of whether the person who receives a ticket is willing to walk this line that has a lack of clarity to it."
Here's what happens to your ticket, once that beady little stoplight lens does its job.
Ellison says that when a city issues the ticket, it goes straight to the L.A. County Superior Court. The court then puts it in their traffic record system. If you havent responded to the ticket by its due date, you'll receive a letter saying that within a few weeks, a $300 civil-assessment fine will be added to the existing $470. If you ignore that letter, the Superior Court tacks on the $300 and sends it to GC Services, its official collection agency. GC Services then sends you a collection letter, making super scary threats about what will happen if you don't pay your $770 bill. (Aka, garnish your wages or file a lien on your house.) Ignore that letter, and they'll send you another, filled with even scarier threats.
But from there, the Los Angeles Times reports that GC Services is instructed not to send it to the nation's three credit-reporting agencies:
Under state law, court officials have discretion over how they pursue those who do not respond to camera-generated citations. Los Angeles County Superior Court officials, as a matter of fairness, said that for the last decade they have chosen a less forceful approach partly because the person receiving the ticket may not be the person who was driving the car. ...
The court may seek payments via collection agencies, but failures to pay do not show up on personal credit reports [or DMV records], court officials said. The policy applies to tickets received throughout Los Angeles County, said Greg Blair, the court's senior administrator for traffic operations.
Neither Ellison nor the Weekly has been able to confirm this with GC Services, where reps refuse to answer the credit question. Instilling more fear is a new message on the Superior Court's website that reads: "Anyone issued a red-light citation must resolve it within the specified time limits or face certain penalties as prescribed by law."
But that's vague -- and likely only posted in last-ditch hopes that the most freaked out of the violators will fork over the court's much-needed cash, just to qualm their nerves.
In July, L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz said of GC Services, "They'll never actually make you pay, and they won't put it on your credit.'' And to this day, L.A. City Councilman Dennis Zine sings a similar tune, adding that the tickets definitely won't show up on your DMV record.
Phew! In conclusion: You do not have to pay your red-light-camera tickets, as previously reported. The only consequence we've been able to identify, so far, is that the ticket will remain in Superior Court, in awkward limbo, for court personnel to view.
L.A. Superior Court communications director Mary Hearn tells us that once your ticket makes it to court, it is out of a city's hands. So the above advice applies to all red-light-camera tickets in Culver City, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and the rest of L.A. County, even though their camera programs are still in place.
However: If anyone notices anything show up on their credit report, or experiences any other repercussions for not paying their ticket, please contact us. And stay strong! The Ellison-led fight for red-light-camera amnesty only has a chance if we all continue to give cameras the finger. Or the gorilla mask, as the case may be.