My Day in Traffic Court


yaakov-salomonBy Rabbi Yaakov Salomon

I was driving northbound on Hamilton Ave. en route to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. I’ve taken the route hundreds of times. But instead of veering left into the lane for the tunnel, I decided to swerve right – into the lane headed for the Brooklyn Bridge. And there he was.

“Okay buddy, pull over here,” he seemed to be saying with his dramatic hand movements. He was short for a cop; a bit stocky, and very animated.

“License, registration and insurance card,” he demanded.

I do not enjoy being pulled over by a law enforcement officer. It falls somewhere between toenail fungus and sea sickness on my “Must Experience” list. I’m not sure if I attempted some lame, incoherent muttering explaining why I crossed that dreaded SOLID WHITE LINE, but I am sure that it made no impact on Officer Stankowski.

“The instructions are on the back,” he kindly informed me while handing me the yellow summons. “Have a nice day.”

During the five minutes or so that he took to write the ticket, I got out of the car and took pictures of the pavement markings and signs posted in the crime scene area. It was something I had seen others do, but never done before myself. I had no idea why I was doing it, but it seemed like my only way to express my innocence to Stankowski. “If I’m taking pictures, then I MUST not be guilty.” Don’t worry. It made no sense to me either.

In the ensuing months I made the usual inquiries of friends, some of them attorneys, to help craft and strategize my approach to the infraction. One avenue was clearly consensual: “Push this off as long as you can. You never know what could happen.”

  • Police officers move out of town, get transferred, or run for District Attorney or other such positions all the time.
  • Maybe the law will change.
  • Nuclear war could beckon.

Dutifully, I cooperated. Nearly a full year went past, but, my luck, the World remained at relative peace. That meant that April 8th was D-Day.

My Secret Weapon

The sun shone brightly that Friday morning. I trimmed the beard and chose a dark tie. Stomach in flutters, I skipped breakfast. I drove (very carefully) to the courthouse and saw my name on the hearing ledger taped to the wall next to Room 5. The paint was peeling. There was no smell. I was early. I’m never early.

I guess a lot of people were early, as most of the seats were already occupied by my fellow defendants. They peered at me as I walked in. They knew I was innocent, as much as I knew the same about them. It’s like a club, these hearing rooms, with new members joining every few hours. “It’s us against the cops. How dare they pronounce us guilty until proven innocent! It’s anti-American. We will band together and we WILL defeat them!”


In walked the enemy. A group of six or seven uniformed officers in full regalia – as if they were actually setting out to real combat. It seemed unfair. Stankowski, in knee-high boots, oversized revolver, gleaming badges and medals, and perfectly pressed slacks versus Salomon…in the dark tie.

But unbeknownst to the prosecution, Salomon had brought a secret weapon- a manila envelope containing copies of Section 3A.01 of the MUTCD. Not familiar with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices? Neither was I, until my research uncovered that the “Bible” of Traffic Law indicated that (read carefully), “A SOLID line usually indicates that crossing the line is discouraged. It goes on to explain that there are actually different widths of solid lines that suggest different levels of restriction. And, according to the pictures that I (so brilliantly) took, that solid line that I crossed could have been construed as very crossable, thank you.

The first case involved a woman charged with driving while talking on her cell phone. She totally denied it – patently and emphatically. It was basically her word against the cop.

“Guilty as charged!” bellowed the judge. “One hundred and forty dollars plus two points on your license. No appeals allowed. See the clerk. Next!”

A pall fell over the gallery.  The club members were distraught. How was that justified?

The next brother was called. Unsafe lane change was his alleged violation. The arguments were spirited on both sides, with my new comrade making a strong case for how the traffic pattern demanded that he switch lanes at that time.

“Guilty as charged!” bellowed the judge. “One hundred and forty dollars plus two points on your license. No appeals allowed. See the clerk. Next!”

At this point I was happy that I had skipped breakfast, as a dour sensation of sudden nausea invaded my digestive tract. I held on to my manila envelope extra tight, but began to question its potential influence.

Two more sisters followed – both with cell phone violations issued by different officers. The verdicts were of similar ilk. They shuffled out of the courtroom pale, with heads bowed and wallets opened. (One of the sisters also had a manila envelope.)

I started feeling a bit light-headed and a slight quiver emerged on my bottom lip.

Wow, I thought, I am really nervous about this thing. How absurd is that?

I found myself in touch with my deepening tension and anxiety and I began to feel…well… embarrassed.

What’s the big deal? It’s only a traffic ticket! And just because you already have two points on your license, that’s a reason to panic? Nausea? Quiver? IT’S ONLY TRAFFIC COURT, FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE!

And then, instinctively, I actually began to pray – yes…pray. I said some Psalms by heart and spoke to God – asking for his intervention. Stankowski – even in his boots – was no match for the Almighty, I reasoned.

The gallery was slowly starting to empty. The next victim…er…accused, was an older gentleman. He looked so sweet and yes, innocent. I couldn’t hear too many of the details, but one part came through loud and clear.

“Guilty as charged! One hundred and forty dollars plus two points on your license. No appeals allowed. See the clerk. Next!”

That thud you heard was the lump that egressed in my larynx.

Now I was sweating and intensifying my prayers. It was clear to me that without some kind of supernal assistance I would be on line at the cashier in just a few minutes. But as my entreaties were compounding, so too was my shame.

This is what you pray for? This? Do you think God has time for such trivialities? World hunger, terrorism, apostasy, apathy, disease, abuse are all rampant. And you’re worried about two points on your license and a few dollars? What has gotten into you??

What kind of self-respecting person would feel compelled by terror in Traffic Court to pray to God for salvation? But, on the other hand, just as there is no such thing as “too big” for God, there is no concept of “too small” either. It’s not as if God is too tied up with the really important stuff, so He can’t attend to the trifle details of our lives. That would imply human-like restriction to the All Powerful.

The same way we make a blessing on a 32 oz. filet mignon, we also recite a blessing before a tiny cup of water. In fact, it is actually the very same blessing that we make on both. My praying to Him when serious illness crosses my earshot in no way precludes my praying when Stankowski looms before me.

Armed with my new artillery, I clutched that manila envelope ever so snugly, closed my eyes, and freely asked God for help.

Seconds later we stood before the judge. A surprising calm descended. The nausea was gone. My voice trembled just a bit when I pleaded, “Not guilty,” but I felt ready to accept His decision. I looked to my right. There stood Stankowski. He was ruffling through his papers.

The judge asked if he was ready to proceed. Stankowski continued to ruffle. Now his feet were shuffling too. I thought I detected a bead of sweat or perhaps a hair skid out of place.

“Officer Stankowski – are you ready to proceed?”

Silence. Now he was shaking his head. A couple of summonses fell to the floor. He bent down to retrieve them.

“Your honor, I…er…I cannot seem to locate the ticket or my notes on this case.

I thought my legs were going to leave their sockets.

“If you cannot proceed, I will have no choice but to dismiss these charges.”

Stankowski was done and he knew it. He pretended to continue his search for the missing documents, but it was to no avail.

“I’m sorry. I cannot find anything on this violation.”

“All right then. Let the record state that I am entering a verdict of ‘Not guilty.’ No points or fine are assessed. You are free to go.”

I thanked the judge and wobbled away.

On the way out, I did three things. First, I glanced over at the remaining fraternity members and smiled. They gave me lots of thumbs up and lots of smiles. One brother pointed to heaven…really.

Second, I said a prayer of thanks. I apologized for my overreaction, but acknowledged that He is truly the God of large and small.

And finally, I tossed that manila envelope in the trash bin.

{ Newscenter}


  1. A truly inspiring story about how HKB”H takes care of us even in the smallest detail. However, what if you hadcrossed that “acceptable” solid white line into an SUV full of children? There are other things which are non-trivial.

    Better to pay attention to your driving, so you won’t need to doven in traffic court – or the emergency room – or jail.

  2. When I have a long drawn out story about my day at my family reunion, I’ll make sure to write a long story and ask Matzav to publish it too.

  3. Very cute! I love it. It is actually absurd when people feel so nervous at a stupid traffic court. I actually daven at the court that i should have that feeling by rosh hashana and yom kipur. If we would feel just that amout of fear i think we would all be in a better position.

  4. I just love this story! I know what traffic court is like. It is just a money maker for the gov’t. and has little to do with sense and sensibility.

  5. If you are ever chas v’shalom in an accident, or victamized you will be very very happy to see these policemen. Excesses or not we live in a medina shel chesed and this is not how we should use a public forum to characterize or discuss law enforcement officials flawed as they may be.

  6. Tha last time I was summoned before a court, I was very nervous. That said, as I approached the building, the Night Court theme started to play over and over in my head. I needlessly felt much better. A gift from Hashem? Perhaps.

  7. I encourage all to fight tickets that they feel were given without reason. I have a case coming up the last week of July…not guilty.

  8. To #6 This was a well written and a nice story. Not everything posted on Matzav has to be a piece of news or a posted Yartzeit day.
    Sometimes it’s refreshing to read a personal story. It was encouraging, showed how Hakodosh Baruch Hu is involved in even the most minutest detail. To the writer it was important that he not be found guilty…maybe he was going through hard financial times and could not afford the ticket…therefore beseeching the Aibershter to make it go away.
    To the writer: thanks for posting the article.


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