By Jane Stahlheber
Early in March, I went to Harbor Court on Jamboree and filed a petition asking that I be released about two weeks early from informal probation. This was the last step in cleaning up my DUI and driving on a suspended driver’s license charges. The petition was granted and the order for probation and related restrictions were vacated.
I asked for early release because I had been arguing with representatives of two companies that oversee an ignition interlock device (IID, or breathalyzer) that I’ve had in my car for almost three years. These people and these companies have been very good to me and I have been allowed to pay for the device on a sliding scale based on my income.
However, the IID was overdue for calibration monitoring, which comes up every 60 days, and my car was not running. If I am able to get the car to ACS Interlock in Santa Ana, the calibration is free. If not, I have to request someone come and do a mobile calibration. The device has some type of internal electronic switch that goes into lock-out if it is not calibrated on time, even if the car is not being driven.
Oh, and by the way, several things will set the device off and cause a false “fail” reading, such as perfume, mouth wash, cigarettes, exhaust fumes in an underground garage and in traffic. I had to pay about $80 for a failed “rolling test” because I was in tourist traffic by Coast Hardware on Broadway in Laguna Beach. Another time I had to pay because I missed a rolling test when I didn’t hear the device’s warning signal, again because I was in traffic. And one of the clauses of the contract I signed is that my car will be in operating condition as long as I have the IID installed. Yikes! I must admit to complaining because I couldn’t keep my car running because of the calibration fees.
Over the years I have experienced a great deal of stress and incurred significant financial repercussions trying to keep up with the monitoring, first while my driving privileges were suspended and, second, when my car was broken down. More than once I’ve had to make the decision to have the mobile calibration done rather than have my car repaired. And how do I provide documentation that my car is not running if my car is not running and I can’t get it to a garage without a towing fee and the IID is in lock-out and a mechanic can’t diagnose the problem with my car because it won’t start because the IID is in lock-out? But I see it as an appropriate consequence of my actions. In fact, I’ve been trying to work with these companies and their representatives so that I can keep the device on my car even though it is no longer required. It is safer for me and safer for society that I have an IID in my car.
Unfortunately, since I have not had the device calibrated on time, the company filed a notice of non-compliance with the DMV and the court even though they are fully aware I have been released from all legal obligations to have the IID in my car.
As I go through this trying situation, attempting to do the right thing, I can’t help but reflect on the criminal justice system. I’d like to share my experience with people who others describe as Public Pretenders, Your Worships and Pigs.
Of all the public defenders I’ve had over the years, and there have been many, I cannot think of one who has given me bad advice or failed to defend me to the best of his or her ability. Many have comforted and reassured me. One took me by the hand to the courtroom when I was afraid of going to jail for a failure to appear on time. Public defenders are much maligned and over-worked individuals with an unappreciated idealistic side to their natures and a desire to make things better for everyone.
Then there are the judges. Well, I have no problem calling them Your Honor, even when I’d like to put them in my place and ask, “what would you have done?”
Judges have sent me to jail and then rehab, which enabled me to break a cycle of abusing methamphetamine and got me off the streets after my first episode of homelessness. I’ve had a judge convict me of DUI then help me figure out how I was going to pay for the classes I was to take for the next nine months. I’ve had judges look at me sternly, say there is nothing they can do, but dismiss fines I couldn’t afford.
Then there are the men and women in blue on the streets, attempting to protect each person’s individual rights. A Laguna Beach police officer who gave me a citation for driving on a suspended license in January 2010 also enabled me to keep my beloved beater car by not sending it to impound and me to jail. I was homeless and staying at the Friendship Shelter at the time.
The same police department worked with me so that I could pay citations for expired tags and parking in a red zone without late fees. And it was multiple members of LBPD who have helped me through two pretty severe decompensations (they don’t call it nervous breakdowns anymore) and an inadvertent overdose of a psych med.
So, am I crazy for my love/hate relationship with “the system” (and probably authority figures in general)? I’m told that demonstrates textbook black-and-white thinking and is a classic part of a personality disorder. But who just can’t like a zebra?
California native Jane Stahlheber, 55, grew up in Victorville, and most recently lived in San Clemente before moving to Laguna Beach in 2009.