The Orange County Register recently reported on a 30-year-old law whose principal function is

to allow nearly 100,000 vehicles registered to California state and local public officials and

employees to evade speeding and other traffic and parking tickets and fines and red light

camera violations.  The newspaper has also spotlighted the current dual efforts to remove the

protection from Vehicle Code sanctions on the one hand and to expand the list of public

workers eligible for the protective list on the other.   

The law was first passed in 1978 to protect peace officer home addresses from disclosure to the public.  It’s been continually expanded since then, and the list now includes:

  • the Attorney General and State Public Defender, and all attorneys they employ;
  • district attorneys and public defenders, and all attorneys they employ;
  • members of the Legislature;
  • judges,court commissioners and trial court employees;
  • city attorneys certain attorneys they employ;
  • nonsworn police dispatchers;
  • child abuse investigators and social workers employed in child protective services within a social services department;
  • active or retired peace officers;
  • employees of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Facilities, or the Prison Industry Authority;
  • nonsworn employees of a city police department, a county sheriff’s office, the California Highway Patrol, a federal, state, or local detention facility, or a local juvenilehall, camp, ranch, or home, whose employer verifies that, he or she controls or supervises inmates or is required to have a prisoner in his or her care or custody;
  • county counsel assigned to child abuse cases;
  • members of a city council or board of supervisors;
  • federal prosecutors, criminal investigators, or National Park Rangers working in the state;
  • active or retired city officers engaged in the enforcement of the Vehicle Code or municipal parking ordinances;
  • county psychiatric social worker s employed by a county.
  • any police or sheriff’s department employee designated by the police chief or sheriff
  • as being in a “sensitive position”—a term undefined in the law;
  • state employees classified as licensing registration examiner, Department of Motor Vehicles; motor carrier specialist 1, California Highway Patrol; or museum security officer and supervising museum security officer;
  • veterinarians employed by a zoo, a public animal control agency shelter, or a society for the prevention of cruelty to animals shelter or a humane society shelter contracting with a local public agency for animal care or protection services; and
  • the spouses and children of any of the above, regardless of where they live.

But the Confidential Records Program has been redundant and needless to protect anyone since 1989, when the Legislature made all persons’ contact information within DMV files inaccessible to the public.  What the law does accomplish, however, is to hide from Vehicle Code ticket and fine enforcers itself the identities and contact information of those on the list.  As the Register put it, the Confidential Records Program

shields these motorists in ways most of us can only dream about:

  • Vehicles with protected license plates can run through dozens of intersections controlled by red light cameras and breeze along the 91 toll lanes with impunity.
  • Parking citations issued to vehicles with protected plates are often dismissed because the process necessary to pierce the shield is too cumbersome.
  • Some patrol officers let drivers with protected plates off with a warning because the plates signal that the drivers are "one of their own" or related to someone who is.

Many who had signed up for the program denied intending to duck tickets or fines, or even to be aware of the possibility of doing so.  But some had to be aware. 

It’s impossible to tell whether every motorist included on the list knowingly exploited their confidential plates—and many of those contacted by The Register insisted it was some kind of mistake.
    But by the time a California Highway Patrol officer recognized Loretta Duplessis’ Camry from a "heavy hitter" list of toll evaders and pulled her over Feb. 27, the couple had racked up $34,805.95 in penalties from (Orange County Transportation Agency), according to a note the officer wrote on her citation. The couple did not respond to repeated requests for comment, including a note left on their front door in Riverside County.

Assemblyman Todd Spitzer (R-Orange) reacted to the Register exposé by declaring he would introduce legislation to help enforcement agencies penetrate the shield and go after the privileged scofflaws.  But meanwhile Assemblyman Sandré Swanson (D-Oakland) has introduced a bill to expand the list to include firefighters and housing code enforcement officers, despite lack of any evidence that the protection for all individuals in DMV files has been inadequate to shield those on the special list or off it. AB 1958 passed its first test last month in the Assembly Transportation Committee on a bipartisan 13-0 vote  (all committee members but Assemblyman José Solorio (D-Anaheim), within the Register’s readership area).

Those interested in which local (or state) officials have taken advantage of the Confidential Records Program can follow the example of Mark Dierolf, a CityWatch watchdog in Salinas, who in reaction to the Register disclosures has made a California Public Records Act request to the city for “all Request For Confidentiality of Home Address forms (INV32), except for sworn police officers, that are now or were in effect over the last 12 months."  He has provided CalAware with an image of the request form he refers to.  Note: The form’s statement that DMV policy precludes duplication of the form refers to duplication by the applicant.

Will his request (with the information to be protected redacted) be honored?  Stay tuned. Meanwhile, see the list of the top 20 motorists who lived largest in the Orange County fast lane—without paying the toll.