Monday, July 02, 2007

How one Republican legislator is using the law to line his own pockets.

Radley Balko at the Reason blog has raised a case that I consider one of the most blatant misuses of legislative power that I have ever seen. I would classify this as blatant and open corruption.

A smarmy, sleazy member of the state legislature, David Albo, has pushed through legislation that makes driving in Virginia a very hazardous thing indeed. The slightest infraction brings the most severe penalties.
Driving as little as 15 MPH over the limit on an interstate highway now brings six license demerit points, a fine of up to $2500, up to one year in jail, and a new mandatory $1050 tax. The law also imposes an additional annual fee of up to $100 if a prior conviction leaves the motorist with a balance of eight demerit points, plus $75 for each additional point (up to $700 a year). The conviction in this example remains on the record for five years.
This corrupt little man says it took him 20 months of work to push through this legislation. On his own political site he brags about it as a “funding” bill for the state’s transportation needs. But he hides the ugly reality of the stiff fines and penalties and the draconian nature of the legislation. That might offend voters. No doubt this weasel assumes that the voters who get caught up in his web won’t know who was responsible for the extremely stiff fines they have to pay.

Albo has introduced bill after bill to massively increase the penalties for traffic offenses. In fact he has also introduced legislation that put ones driver’s licenses in jeopardy for non-traffic offenses. Anyone who is convicted of purchasing alcohol for someone underage will lose their driver’s license for one year.

Why all this emphasis on heavy penalties for drivers? The sleazebag legislator is also an attorney who specializes in representing people arrested for traffic offenses.

Now think for a moment. Here is a minor traffic offense. What makes it minor? The penalty. So what will people do with those cases? Most will pay the fine and forget it. But if you jack up the penalty so that the person’s actual livelihood is at stake, and many people can’t work if they can’t drive, then even if the actual offense was a small one the heavy penalty will force the person to hire a defense attorney. The purpose of heavy penalties is to force people to spend money on lawyers like Albo.

“Ah,” the totalitarian types who love massive penalties for any infraction will say, “This fine upstanding Republican is merely looking out for the interests of the public. You, on the other hand, merely want bad drivers out putting the lives of others at risk.”

Albo, however, brags about how drivers involved in serious offenses were let off with no penalty because he and his team defended them. He said he would like to “publish a running tally of the cases we won and lost” but that the law won’t allow him to do that. He says “even hopeless-looking cases” can be won and he brags about how a drunk driver with a blood test level 4 times over the limit got off which Albo’s team on his side. Here is Albo’s own description of the case:
The evidence at trial showed that a police officer was dispatched to an accident scene where he saw our client parked in a nearby parking lot, slumped over the wheel. (The other driver was not injured). The officer smelled a strong odor of alcohol and noticed that our client had slurred speech, had a loss in his train of thought, had poor balance (using his car for support as he stood), and said he had two bottles of vodka before the accident. Our client said he was not sick or hurt, but that he had diabetes. He was completely unable to do the One Leg Stand and Walk and Turn tests, despite attempts. He couldn’t say the alphabet from A to Z – he just said “a, b, c.” Since he was passing out as the officer tried to administer a roadside breath test, the officer had him placed in an ambulance. Outside the ambulance, the EMT hooked our client to an IV with saline solution and took him to the hospital. The officer followed the ambulance to the hospital, stayed by our client’s side the entire time, and saw that he was not given any medication or treatment. A nurse drew blood per Virginia law, which tested 0.33. (The statutory level in Virginia is 0.08).
Albo’s team argued that empty vodka bottles in the car explained the odor. Sure they did along with the fact that the drunk driving the car had consumed them before hitting the other car. Because the client passed out and was given a saline solution Albo firm argued that the line of custody of his blood was tainted and therefore there was no way to know if the diabetes or the drinking were responsible for the accident. He brags: “The court found our client Not Guilty.”

For one moment consider the driver of the other car. Albo apparently didn’t.

If the owner of a painting company passed legislation requiring a state license to be a house painter and then passed legislation making it illegal for any citizen to do their own painting it would be an obvious conflict of interest. The legislation in question pushes up his own income in an obvious manner. It is corrupt.

Albo is no different. He knows that with higher penalties his legislation will force more and more people to defend their infractions in court and that means more income for Albo’s pocket. That is corrupt. The Washington Times editorialized that this could be called the “Lawyers Full Employment Act of 2007... since some of the idea’s backers work for law firms, which will see more business as these fines increase the court caseloads.”

The clerk of the Fairfax Country General Distrcit Court, Nancy Lake, says the new heavier fines means “we will be overwhelmed” in new cases. The Washington Post says: “Traffic court judges fear they will see a huge increase in trials, with defendants unwilling to plead guilty because they know they will face additional fees.”

The kicker in all of this is that the new heavier fines only apply to residents of the state. Bad drivers from outside the state pay the old fines. Albo did this because revenue from normal fines go to the school fund. He wants the money to go into expanding government spending in general. So these are called “abuser fees” not traffic fines.

This shyster attorney is pretending that his massive increase in state revenue is really a cut in fees. "It's a variable registration fee based on the lousiness of your record. We're giving people with good driving records a reduction in their fee. And we can't charge a registration fee on people from New York flying through Virginia." Of course this is a lie. After all the man is an attorney and a politician. In fact the registration fees remain the same and are not reduced at all. This is a measure to boost state spending. Albo, showing his total disregard for honesty called this “a voluntary tax”. The Post explains how this new law will benefit Albo directly:
Lawyers said that more defendants will hire lawyers than before, that the lawyers will charge more money because the stakes are higher and that more cases will be appealed to circuit courts.
It’s supply and demand. When Albo raises the fines on drivers he forces more of them to defend themselves in court. That increases the demand for shyster attorneys like himself. But the supply of such attorneys is strictly limited by licensing procedures pushed through by attorneys to limit competition. With increased demand and a limited supply the income of attorneys like Albo is increased. It is increased not just from an increase in cases but from higher fees per case. Albo is padding his own pocket.

Aren’t you glad that the Republicans are out there defending morality? Of course Albo will pretend that these fines keep taxes down. In reality, as the Times pointed out this is “predatory, tax-and-spend government at its worst.” Albo is increasing state revenue inflating the size of government and his own bank account at the same time.

You can contact Albo here:

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