888 Red Light's Worst Traffic Court Judge Award

There are ten Traffic Violation Bureaus (TVB) in New York State (seven in New York City) adjudicating almost 800,000 cases per year and raising over $40,000,000 million in fines and surcharges for the state. We thought it would be worthwhile examining TVB statistics from 2010 and determine who is the worst traffic court judge. By “worst”, we mean the most un-sympathetic judge in the TVB system, the one that salivates at the opportunity to pull a license or jack up a fine. The judge that a motorist should run from if he is assigned to his or her case.

After reviewing the following 5 categories, our decision this year was easy:

  • Percent of motorists found guilty with cop
  • Percent of motorists found guilty with no cop
  • Percent of dismissals when cop fails to appear (first or second non-appearance)
  • Total number of discretionary suspensions
  • Total fines collected

Let’s first make sure you understand each category. The next category is percent of motorists found guilty with no cop and refers to actual hearings where the police officer and motorist both appeared, and the case was decided on the merits. Obviously, a high rate indicates that a judge is quick to convict (i.e., motorist-unfriendly).

Percent of motorists found guilty with no cop is the next category and refers to the percent of times that a motorist appeared before a judge with the decision to plead guilty or not guilty, and the motorist decided to plead guilty. These are not trials but rather “walk in” cases where the motorist is not scheduled that day for a hearing. A high percentage indicates that the judge was persuasive in convincing the motorist to forego his or her right to a trial and enter a guilty plea.

The percent of dismissals when a police officer doesn’t appear (first or second non-appearance) is our fourth category. When a police officer fails to appear at the TVB for a scheduled hearing, the judge has discretion to dismiss the case. On a second “no show”, most judges will dismiss the case automatically (but not always).

The total number of discretionary suspensions refers to the number of times the judge exercised his or her right to suspend a motorist when it was not mandatory to suspend. Clearly, motorists benefit from judges who use their discretionary sparingly.

Finally, traffic judges have a range in which to impose fines. For instance, it could be from $50 to $250 for many violations. Judges who are heavy-handed in regard to imposing fines are certainly ones to avoid.

In reviewing these five categories, it wasn’t even close. The percent of motorists found guilty after a contested hearing was 89.7% despite most of his colleagues averaging between 50% and 70%. Similarly, of the walk-in cases handled by this judge, a whopping 85.8% were found guilty. Other TVB judges ranged between 40% and 60%.

Even when an officer failed to appear, this judge only dismissed the case a meager 4.3% of the time, much lower than his colleagues. In regard to discretionary suspensions, this judge suspended 549 motorists, roughly double to the next closest judge (and well and above the other 90 judges). Finally, this judge collected over $1 million in fines, more than double the next highest fine total. Another judge who handled even more cases than our “worst” judge only fined motorists only around $430,000.

So who is the 888-Red Light 2010 Worst Traffic Court Judge? His name is Brian D. Levine and he administers “justice” at the Staten Island Traffic Violations Bureau. It is widely known by traffic lawyers that Judge Levine will rarely give the benefit of the doubt to a motorist. Indeed, the chance of winning in front of Levine is close to nil (regardless of the facts). Levine probes for ways to stick it to motorists. For example, when he is aware that a routine speeding ticket was issued in a work zone, he will affirmatively confirm this information with the officer and then find the motorist guilty of this more severe speeding ticket. It is no surprise that Levine is rumored to carry a gun to protect himself from un-happy motorists.

With his stats in the mix, it is no wonder that the Staten Island Traffic Violations Bureau is the single toughest traffic court in New York City. Congratulations to Judge Levine for his un-tiring efforts to stick it to New York motorists.

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