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The Earthly Court vs. The Heavenly Court


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I served in the Traffic Violations Bureau (TVB) of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for many years as an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), Senior ALJ, Vice Chairman of the Appeals Board and, finally, TVB Director.

The TVB was established in 1970, when I started with DMV, to serve as NYC’s traffic courts, in place of the Criminal Court. We had growing pains in the early days as we replaced a paper system with a computerized operation. During the early years, when the local offices were not “online” with the central DMV computer files in Albany, all TVB judgments were recorded on computer tapes and the central files were updated weekly.

There were a few occasions when a day’s New York City computer entries were not entered on the central files. So, dispositions – guilty and not guilty – did not update the license files. This resulted in computer-generated suspensions of motorists’ licenses for failing to answer their traffic tickets. TVB kept paper dockets in the local offices, by date, in chronological order.

One of the “lost” days was September 29, 1971.

In early 1973, when I was the Senior ALJ in Brooklyn TVB, a motorist came in with his wife. Tzion Levi (not his real name) explained in Hebrew-accented English that he had been stopped for a traffic violation and was arrested because DMV records showed his license had been suspended at the end of October 1971, for failure to answer a summons.

After he was brought to the police precinct he was given an appearance ticket and told to go to DMV and clear up the suspension on his record before appearing in the Criminal Court on the “driving while license suspended” charge.

From his name, accent, and the fact that they were conversing in Hebrew, I deduced that they were Israelis from Edot HaMizrach (Sephardim) living in New York City.

Mr. Levi insisted that he had answered the ticket in the fall of 1971. I told him that there had been a few days’ entries at that time that had not updated DMV records. I brought out the big handwritten docket books and told him to look for his name and to tell me when he found it.

Sure enough, within a few minutes, he called out to me. I looked at the docket for September 29, 1971; a day I knew was one of those that had not been updated. The docket showed that his traffic ticket for failing to display his license had in fact been dismissed.

After I prepared all the documents to clear his record and gave him whatever he would need in the Criminal Court case against him, I said,

“Mr. Levi, that is one of the days I told you about. You had very few entries to look at because that day was the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, on which we had no trials scheduled, and only a few people came in to answer tickets at all.”

When Mrs. Levi heard that, she began berating her husband: “You went to court on Yom Kippur instead of Bet Knesset!” she yelled. “That’s why they lost the records and you had all these problems,” she screamed at him.

Mr. Levi looked at his wife sheepishly and vowed that in the future, on the holidays, he would go to shul.

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