A unique forum: The Traffic and Parking Violation Agency

The Nassau County Traffic & Parking Violations Agency is solely the creation of the Nassau County Bar Association and the Lawyers of Nassau County, who collectively joined in protecting the rule of law and fundamental due process for the citizens of Nassau County.

The Problem
In the mid 1980’s, two events joined to forecast a substantial legal problem to both the legal community and the citizens of Nassau County.

Suffolk County was considering the elimination of their traffic court and joining the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles Traffic Adjudication Bureau, relieving their newly-formed District Court of Vehicle and Traffic Law prosecution. Additionally, the county hoped to generate additional revenue from the Department of Motor Vehicles. The Nassau County District Attorney, Denis Dillon, was contemplating a withdrawal of his office from the prosecution of vehicle and traffic offenses to free those resources to prosecute more serious crimes and to expand his staff as well.

The Nassau County Executive, Francis Purcell, was prepared to join the Department of Motor Vehicles in hopes of developing a new source of revenue and accommodating the District Attorney to relieve the District Court of that burden and to provide a new forum for the adjudication of Vehicle and Traffic Law offenses at no cost to the county. The existing system, a court of law with elected judges and impartial independent prosecutors from the District Attorney’s office, bore the triad of due process: first, the presumption of innocence; second, the prosecutorial burden of proof; and third, that the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. If the Department of Motor Vehicles took over all of these prosecutions, then fundamental due process rights would be sacrificed on the altar of expediency. The hearing would be conducted before a hearing officer, an employee of the Motor Vehicle Bureau, who would be both prosecutor and finder of the facts. Of course, there would be no presumption of innocence. The administrative standard would be whether the hearing officer’s conduct was not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable.

The Bar Association, its officers, directors and members could not stand by silently while our Constitution was eviscerated before our very eyes.

The Solution
The Executive Committee of the Bar Association and its directors unanimously voted to pick up the gauntlet and devote all of its powers and commit all of its resources in support and defense of the constitutions of the United States and the State of New York, by creating a new and unique agency, unprecedented in New York, to compete directly with the Department of Motor Vehicles. This would require new legislation.

The Bar Association met with the District Attorney, Denis Dillon, who graciously agreed to forgo withdrawing from Vehicle and Traffic Law prosecution while the Bar Association actively engaged in creating this new agency. We met with the County Executive, Francis Purcell, who was cooperative but still had reservations on the revenue question. It was good fortune that the Department of Motor Vehicles was now up and operating in Suffolk County. With the enthusiastic cooperation of the Suffolk County Bar Association, their research indicated that there was no substantial revenue advantage with the Department of Motor Vehicles. In addition, the Nassau County Bar Association’s research indicated that a likely new source of substantial revenue would begin from a local agency. In the spirit of cooperation and in deference to the Bar Association, the County Executive indicated that he too would withdraw any further action to join with the Motor Vehicle Bureau while the Bar Association pursued the creation of this new agency.

The next step was to gain the cooperation and support of the Nassau County Legislature to pass a “home rule” resolution in support of this new agency. Never would the cohesive force of attorneys acting in concert in service to the profession and public be more apparent then now, as attorneys on both sides of the aisle joined together for this public good. This “home rule” message was unanimously endorsed and sent to Albany, where lawyers acting in concert and true to their professional judgment pushed back against the Motor Vehicle Bureau and passed the required legislation in the House and Senate on July 18, 1990.

The agency is now up and running, providing fundamental due process to the citizens of Nassau County; a balanced forum for the attorneys of Nassau County; opportunity for both Nassau attorneys and judicial officers to administer justice; and a very substantial revenue source to aid all of the residents of Nassau County.

This serves as a reminder that the Bar Association and the attorneys of Nassau County, as guardians of the Constitution, must be ever vigilant and act in concert and cooperation to protect and serve the profession and public in the interests of justice. Presently, this unique agency remains one of a kind in New York State under the most able direction of the Honorable John G. Marks, who is leading the agency to even more effective and efficient service than its creators ever imagined.

Frank E. Yannelli, a Past President of the Bar Association, was a participant in the creation of the Nassau Traffic Agency and is presently Chair of the Oversight Committee, and any concerns should be submitted to him.