The Wheels of Justice


You know, I kinda almost feel sorry for the government after officials in Prince William County (Virginia) had to tangle with Robert Eberth over a car inspection sticker. For six years.

Eberth fought the $35 citation he received—he thought the county had no authority to ticket a car parked on private property—and the Virginia Court of Appeals eventually agreed with him.

Yeah, but put a box of Sudafed on the dash…..

NEXT: Ohhh, But Are You Experienced? Have You Ever Been Experienced?

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  1. “I’ve led people in combat. I’ve had guys killed in Vietnam under my command,” he said.

    Odd comment considering the story.

  2. Have any of you guys seen what they are doing with the speeding tickets in NYS recently? Yearly “safety assessment” payments have been added to the pre-existing penalties. I saw a constitutional challenge to that, but it was rejected.

  3. Jimmy- I imagine that the quote came from the reporter’s discussion of the guy’s background during whatever interview he did. The quote was probably in a very different context, but the reporter wanted to highlight the military’s effect on the guy’s character. I think he chose badly; in the context, the quote is jarring.

  4. Whoa! This guy is hardcore! He got a sympathy dismissal, so he left the car out to get another ticket in the same place. He got another sympathy dismissal, so he left it out again. That time he got in the prosecutor’s face to ensure that he wouldn’t get any sympathy so that the case could be appealed to a higher court.

  5. He plotted to make the case “a test of manhood.” When Eberth arrived in Circuit Court, he got right in the prosecutor’s face and dared him to proceed.

    “I tend to spit a little when I’m animated, so I’m sure he got a full face, too,” Eberth said. “I wanted to get him mad.”

    Hardcore indeed. I wish we had a transcript. Also, I’m not comfortable with a judicial system that openly rules “since you’re a fine patriot, you don’t have to obey all the laws”.

  6. And you thought a guy who came out big against driver’s licenses was good!

    “Eberth’s long, tortuous journey from Taurus owner to parking-ticket avenger is a tale of dogged persistence, sheer outrage and crafty improvisation. A Vietnam veteran who is a research consultant with the U.S. Marine Corps, Eberth, 62, is the type of man who keeps military time and has little patience for the vagaries of petty bureaucracy.”

    “I’ve led people in combat. I’ve had guys killed in Vietnam under my command,” he said.”

    Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby nominate Robert Eberth to be our next Libertarian candidate for President of the United States!

  7. …the ‘government’ won on this one, of course.

    The police, prosecutors, and lower court judges all engaged in blatantly illegal activity against the plaintiff — and will receive not the slightest punishment nor even a reprimand for their conduct.

    The plain & obvious reading of the law should have quickly resulted in dropping the… charges at the lowest traffic court. But the government court bureaucracy does not like challenges to its ‘authority’ … no matter what the law actually says.

    Justice in local traffic courts is a very rare commodity.

  8. parking-ticket avenger … research consultant with the U.S. Marine Corps … Libertarian candidate for President

    Semper Fine!

  9. That reminds me, my sticker is out.

  10. Change of subject but still related to traffic law. I would like to get some liberatarian prospectives.

    I was stoped at a check point about 6 months ago on the NY / PA. I assumed it was a drunk driving check point and was very uncoroperative. It turned out they were looking for Ralph Bucky Phillips, an excaped con who had shot two policemen, ambush style, with a highpowered rifle a few days earlier. They captured him about 10 miles from where I was stoped.

    I don’t know how I feel about this, is it OK for cops to set up checkpoints in a dragnet for a specific criminal?

  11. Caldwell,
    statewide and/or constitutional decisions have to come from the top down and it takes time (in this case too much time) to get to the top. would it be really make sense to have a traffic court dictating laws to the rest of the state?

    sam_h, probably depends on the dangerousness of the criminal, the size of the dragnet, and how invasive the dragnet is. as libertarians we would probably argue the criminals should be pretty dangerous and the dragnets should be pretty small and not invasive in most situations.

  12. Is the car breaking any traffic laws? Do the occupants of the car match the description of the criminal being pursued (and none of the “all _________’s look the same to me” garbage)? Do the cops have a warrant to search any car?

    If yes, then ok, if not, then violation of our rights.

  13. A wee bit OT, but TX is running the weirdest tv ad featuring two ditzy would be beauty queens gushing over a new inspection sticker. Over the girls’ “like, that is soo cool” and “it was sooo easy to get” comments, an official sounding voice explained that the fees from the stickers improved our roadways.

    I could only think that we shouldn’t need that tollroad if we can afford to pay for stupid ads.

  14. I don’t know how I feel about this, is it OK for cops to set up checkpoints in a dragnet for a specific criminal?

    Yes… they’re looking for a specific criminal– meaning that when they stop you and ascertain you’re not the droid they’re looking for, they send you on your way- no further questions about where you’re going, what’s in the trunk, etc.

  15. I almost became this guy (minus the leading men into combat thing…) when the city entered one parking ticket into their computer system twice, one with an address one digit off from the legit one– an address that demonstrably didn’t exist in the city limits. Needless to say, I fought hard. Eventually, the city relented and demanded I only pay the base ticket amount, less the “late” penalties. It’s good to know that it can be done. It’s bad to know that it takes that much effort.

  16. That’s creepy, Sam_H. I was pulled over once because my truck (and, very generally, myself) matched the description of someone who’d shot someone in the neighborhood. It was wierd, because they were not asking the regular questions you get when you get pulled over. That made me considerably more cooperative than I normally am, because I figured something actually *was* wrong, and it was not just some money-grubbing traffic stop. And, yes, there’d been a violent crime committed. It was sobering.

    This is the sort of thing I think law enforcement ought to be doing – catching people who shoot other people. I’d be up for dragnets for this purpose. They shouldn’t be allowed to write you up or detain you for any other reason, however, once they are satisfied that you are not the person they are looking for.

  17. Stupid question(s)…: How are cops supposed to enforce an inspection law if they’re not allowed to ticket parked cars? If it’s so important to keep uninspected, and presumably dangerous, vehicles off the road, how do you accomplish that without checkpoints or checking the inspection only when you’re pulled over for some other reason? It’s kind of difficult to read an inspection sticker moving at 55MPH, isn’t it?

  18. Patrick,
    I’ve noticed that inspection stickers change color from year to year. Whether a cop can see the difference between green and purple at 55mph doesn’t matter. It is my (very humble) opinion that any car that can merge and flow with Dallas traffic is probably safe for the road.

    FTR, I grew up poor in New Orleans and was able to get my 1st-6th shitty cars to pass inspection at certain gas stations. (I actually drove a Corolla with no fender for a while.) I have also had my ’05 911 blow a tire in the middle of 75. You may be curious about the disclosure. 911s have no spare, require towing, on a flatbed, by a Porsche approved service. My point? Every car is dangerous in the eye(s) of those on the road the 1/2 second after a “presumably safe” car fucks up.

  19. Just another example of how something doesn’t necessarily need to be ‘illegal’ to be, you know, illegal.

  20. Justice in local traffic courts is a very rare commodity.

    IDEA for HnR blog entry or reason Online article: more and more ex-police officers are offering to represent people in traffic court in exchange for money. Good thing or bad thing?

    I imagine this topic would be right up Radley Balko’s alley.

    one “pro” is that more people will probably get some representation, rather than no representation and that is a good thing.

    another (specially libertarian) “pro” is that the state monopoly on licensing people to practice law is subverted and destroyed (at least for traffic court).

    one “con” is that given the close relationship and apparent trusting relationship between the po po’s and the judges at the courts, there is a danger that having an ex-police officer “represent”* one at traffic court may slide into influence peddling, rather than bona fide help with supposedly complex laws and procedures.

    anyway, just throwing that out there. i don’t know how I feel about the whole issue on balance, and would love to have the considered guidance of a Reasonwriter on this subject.


    * I use the word “representation” in scare quotes because I am guessing that the ex-police officer’s role may limited under the respective laws of various states and provinces. For instance, maybe the ex-police is allowed to educate you outside the court room, but not speak to the court directly on your behalf. This kind of help may not amount to “representation.”

  21. Having driven thru the Ralph “Bucky” Phillips dragnet a couple of times, I became convinced that the dragnet was as publicized and relentless as it was because d00d shot policemen coming to arrest him. If he had shot regular people, none of us would have heard of him.

    You can argue that that is a good or bad state of affairs, but good or bad, that is why that dragnet was special.

  22. Patrick,

    Here in Houston, HPD will hang out in the U-turn lanes or near intersections where they can get a good look at your sticker as you slow/stop. No ticketing of parked cars required.

  23. miche,

    My strategery is to get the car inspected every other January, so that the sticker is never an expired color, despite being 2 years old.

  24. crimethink,
    My husband and I like cars and flip in and out of them often enough that it is a joke for our friends. I haven’t had to buy an inspection sticker in 6 years.

  25. “I’ve had guys killed in Vietnam under my command,” he said.”

    That is an odd statement, I’m not sure if it is something to brag about.

  26. Hey all — Bob Eberth reports a tech glitch in getting the following comment to post. Ripe with very interesting details, it follows.

    JAT – Reason


    I too am bothered by the “combat” quote. First, because it’s not an accurate quote. Two men did die and a third was severely wounded while returning to their base from a mission supporting me, but they were not under my command. That mission would have been unnecessary, however, and they might be alive and healthy today, had I been able to convince my South Vietnamese counterpart not to do something stupid. I failed, and three great young men – and their families – paid for my failure. I’m anything but proud of that. Inaction, or inadequate action, can carry a high price tag.

    Second, the quote was out of context and flatly missed the point. I fully believe in the principles upon which this Nation was founded, principles codified in our Constitution. I took an oath to support and defend that Constitution against all enemies, foreign or domestic. I have seen and experienced firsthand the price our servicemen and women pay to defend our Nation and our Constitution – which was the point the “quote” was supposed to make, but in this broader context. So when I see Government officials blithely ignore or violate that Constitution and the proper body of law flowing from it, or even wrap and protect illegal practices within a cloak of false law, I get.disturbed. And I do not play well with others, when disturbed.

    The dismissals of the early citations were not out of sympathy or thanks for service. Those statements were only covers. The dismissals were done to protect a very lucrative revenue stream. I had been warned about precisely that strategy by Kent Willis, the Director of the Virginia Chapter of the ACLU, when this fight started. He said the Commonwealth Attorney would use dismissal to keep the ordinances in the county and ensure they not be examined by the Court of Appeals. For nearly five years, he was right. I’m also not proud of what I did to a young Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney to get him to prosecute rather than dismiss at the Circuit Court level, but I felt there was no option. To win the war, I first had to lose the battle.

    There’s much to come. This was not a case of simple “error” as the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors would have the public believe, or even of innocent incompetence. The legislative process has built-in legal review steps, performed by the County Attorney, to ensure that no county ordinance is inconsistent with state law. In these cases, the inconsistencies are immediately obvious and flagrant. No lawyer – and few laymen – could have missed them unless they wanted to. Further, the very act of enacting the two invalid ordinances was itself illegal – it violated two other state statutes. I reminded the Chairman, the entire Board, and the County Attorney of all that at their weekly meeting yesterday. I also told them that the FBI has indicated possible interest in the matter. True statement, incidentally.

    The County also set up a unique organization within the Police Department to enforce the invalid ordinances. That Parking Enforcement Unit is staffed entirely by school Crossing Guards. They are very effective and very aggressive. That’s because not all Crossing Guards are Parking Enforcement Officers, but the ones that are work enough additional hours to earn the county benefits package. So they produce or lose benefits. They also are untrained in the laws they are enforcing. They don’t need to be trained in the law – the tickets are printed on the spot from a handheld PDA with its own thermal printer. Moreover, the tickets don’t identify the ordinance supposedly violated, but have just a summary statement printed on them (e.g., No Valid State Inspection), making it extremely difficult for anyone not having ready access to a computer and the Internet to find out just what they are charged with.

    It’s possible the entire structure – the ordinances, their enforcement, and the vigorous and apparently unethical protection of the whole by the Commonwealth Attorney and County Attorney over forty years – could fall within the legal definition of fraud. That would be an interesting concept – a “continuing criminal enterprise” operated within and by a county government. Compensation of its victims would be very much an issue.

    And there is still another parking case yet to be resolved. In this next one, I’ve been charged under state vice county code. If I can keep it alive, it could be even more explosive, and not only because it already has provided conclusive evidence of violation at both the state and local level of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

    If anyone’s still interested after all the above, the case goes national tonight at 9:35 p.m. EST on the Rusty Humphries radio show.

    Best regards, and apologies for the long post,

    Bob Eberth

  27. Quick correction: the spot on the Rusty Humphries show was rescheduled to this Friday evening, same time (2135 EST). // Bob Eberth

  28. Nuts! Postponed again. Next week, date/time TBD.

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