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June 15, 2009

Readers see no need for leadfoot lobbyist's speed

By Michael Dresser

 michael.dresser @baltsun.com

Last week this column explored the colorful driving record of Bruce C. Bereano, super-lobbyist, mail fraudster and chronic speeder. It recounted how Bereano has amassed 22 traffic tickets over the past 13 years — nine of them for racing along at 80 mph or more.

Readers were not amused. Not at Bereano. Not at the judges who handed him probation before judgment (PBJ) in spite of an abysmal driving record.

 “Bruce Bereano has been getting away with antics that the common man or woman would be in jail for,” writes Lois Raimondi Munchel of Forest Hill. “I for one would like to see published the names of the judges who viewed these offenses as not worth protecting the driving public from. ... One day, he, as others who drive with such disregard for the law, will kill a family.”

 

Reader James Scholl wondered how it is that Bereano is permitted to keep his driver’s license. But he saw an upside for the lobbyist in the speed camera legislation Bereano so resolutely and unsuccessfully opposed.

“Bereano is way off base in opposing speed cameras; now he will be able to just pay his fines without court costs, attorney fees, and lost time. No more worrying about points, PBJ’s, or getting the ‘right’ judge,” Scholl wrote. “I clock a lot of miles around our town, and I see so much dangerous driving that I would like to see the cameras everywhere.”

Irwin E. Weiss, a Baltimore lawyer, expressed astonishment that Bereano is still permitted to drive and is still treated with deference in Annapolis.

 “Here is a guy whose craft is to influence the making of and repealing of laws, and his behavior shows what complete disrespect he has for laws,” Weiss wrote. “Here is a guy who was convicted of mail fraud. He was disbarred. Why in God’s name would any self-respecting state legislator listen to what he says on behalf of his clients? Oh, I guess the folks in the legislature are not ‘self-respecting.’”

 It was also good to hear from Sen. Brian E. Frosh, chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee and a legislator known for his immunity to Bereano’s charms.

“Bereano came [to my committee] to testify against a red light camera bill a couple of years ago,” the Montgomery County Democrat wrote. “He talked about how simple it is to beat the rap if one knows how to do it. I asked him how many tickets he’d received. Answer: dozens.”

While most of the reaction I received was favorable, some thought the column missed the point.

Mark Adams of Fells Point wrote that “everyone knows that Bruce Bereano skirts the rules. But now, the state can skirt the rules with the speed cameras. “Ever since the adoption of the Bill of Rights, citizens have had the right to confront their accusers with cross-examination and they have had the presumption of innocence. This goes out the window with speed cameras, red light cameras, etc. The state does this with a fictitious process that converts a minor criminal penalty into a ‘civil fine.’ By making the fine a civil matter, rather than criminal, the state throws the Bill of Rights out the window.”

Jason Stewart of Baltimore didn’t like my theory that the drive to petition the speed cameras law to referendum failed because enough people said “no” to make the difference.

 “I personally collected over 300 signatures and only had 3 people tell me they were for the cameras. I had at least 5 Baltimore County Police Officers sign my petition and all said ... these cameras had nothing to do with safety, just revenue.”

Brian Holmes, president of the Maryland Transportation Builders and Materials Association, found my criticism of the court system unfair.

“The number of speeding (and like) cases would swamp the judicial system if all were heard. Accordingly, the courts use PBJ to clear their calendars, so they can provide criminal defendants with speedy trials as the constitution requires and reasonable timeliness for civil litigants.”

In a subsequent email, however, Holmes stated: “Frequent speeders ought to be singled out for ineligibility for PBJs.”

 I concur wholeheartedly, and would hope to see the General Assembly give some guidance to the judiciary on the promiscuous use of PBJs. We could start with curbing such breaks for repeat offenders and those clocked at 80 mph and up.

 Let’s call it Bruce’s Bill.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:56 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads
        

Comments

Are we done with singling one person out in your corner of the web? Bereano is just one of many scoffloaws, and you pound on him why? Because he's a public figure? Consider that he's a hired gun, and represents perhaps some scofflaws of his ilk, but other folks who hired him for his effectiveness in Annapolis to lobby against nanny-state provisions.

If you insist on continuing this campaign against Bearano, please do it with a dose of robust journalism and shop the MVA records to publicly identify and brand with a scarlet letter all of the other capricious repeat speeding offenders. This disclosure of interest might bring folks to your blog and/or sell papers but I wonder what is the extent of its actual value. Will you also be publishing and trying to discredit the names of all the folks that signed a petition to have the speed cameras bill put on the ballot of a referendum?

I'm not a fan of Bereano, but I find that your criticism, and that of the op-ed board is misdirected, that you made him the symbol of a movement that may have less to do with whether people speed and much more to do with the citizenry's right to seek redress with the government, to question one's accuser. It also has quite a bit to do with how much of the revenue from fines is to be split with the contractor that owns and operates the system and the government that enforces the laws. (And by the way, will you report on any back-door lobbying efforts by good folks like those at Northrup Grumman to win the contracts, will you be tracking their campaign contributions?) This is a concern in parallel to those of SOME of the folks who were against the terms of the standard deal that would be cut with racino operators - too much money going to the operators from that revenue pot, and not nearly enough going to the state.

--In a subsequent email, however, Holmes stated: “Frequent speeders ought to be singled out for ineligibility for PBJs.”--

This sounds like its in the same neighborhood as enforcing existing law, which wouldn't require the revenue cameras. I'm for it.

I find Mark Adams statement: Ever since the adoption of the Bill of Rights,
citizens have had the right to confront their accusers with
cross-examination and they have had the presumption of innocence. This goes
out the window with the speed cameras, red light cameras, etc." nothing more
than a quibble. The state is the accuser and you can still argue your case.
Unfortunately is it weak since there is direct evidence that whoever was
driving the car was speeding. To follow Mr. Adams argument to its logical
conclusion would imply that no forensic evidence could be entered into the
trial record because it cannot be cross-examined. I would have more sympathy
for this argument Mark's voice was lifted in high dudgeon against the
trampling of the Bill of Rights perpetrated by the Bush administration after
9/11.

As to the issue of the cameras only being used as a revenue raiser, well
what is wrong with that. There are a number of sin taxes imposed to collect
revenue and discourage the practice being taxed. On top of that you can mail
in the tax without interrupting your day to appear in court. So if you want
to speed, then pay the speed tax; otherwise don't speed--or at least have
enough intelligence to locate the speed cameras.

One thing that seems to be overlooked on the issue of accessing points is
that the points are assigned against the driver's license, which can be a
problem in situations in which there are multiple drivers for the same
vehicle. Unless the camera can identify the driver, the question of whose
license should be charged cannot be resolved without a confession by the
driver, which arguably is an issue with the fifth amendment. Presumably the
owner of the vehicle can figure out who was speeding and properly assign the
payment.

Actually it just occurred to me that what we really should tax is stupidity
since I do not recall it as being one of the unalienable rights enumerated
in the Declaration of Independence. Enough revenue could be raised to repeal
all other taxes!!!!

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.
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