It was no accident that when Jonathan Frieman was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol, he was alongside a silent companion – his corporation.
Frieman, a local activist and consultant in San Rafael, was ticketed on Oct. 2 for driving a vehicle with a single occupant in the carpool lane on Highway 101. He has since challenged the ticket in Marin Superior Court on the grounds that the vehicle’s other occupant was the paperwork comprising a corporation.
“Corporations are imaginary entities, and we’ve let them run wild,” Frieman said in a press release issued prior to his Jan. 7 hearing.
Frieman, joined by his attorney Ford Greene, appeared before Judge Frank Drago at 3 p.m. Monday afternoon.
In a courtroom lined with reporters, buzzing with anticipation and camera flashes, Greene began by presenting three defense exhibits. The first two were photographs of road signs, which indicate carpool lane restrictions, along northbound Highway 101.
Greene read aloud from the defense exhibits, noting the sign states, “Carpool is two or more persons per vehicle.”
Greene claimed Frieman was wrongfully ticketed because the paperwork in his car legally constituted a passenger.
According to California Vehicle Code Section 470, a person “includes a natural person, firm, copartnership, association, limited liability company, or corporation.”
Furthermore, California Vehicle Code 21655.5b, which addresses exclusive or preferential-use lanes for high occupancy vehicles, states, “No person shall drive a vehicle upon those lanes except in conformity with the instructions imparted by the official traffic control devices.”
Greene argued that a ‘person’ is either both a natural person and a corporation, or that the statute is unconstitutionally vague.
“Central here is the concept of double meaning,” Greene said in court. “Citizens should not be left to guess when he or she is in violation of the statute.”
Judge Drago also heard testimony from the involved officer, Troy Dorn of the Marin CHP.
Dorn testified that he saw paperwork in the right passenger seat of Frieman’s vehicle, and that he was “unsure about corporations’ status as people.”
After all arguments were heard, Judge Drago addressed the defendant, noting the case was a “novel argument,” and that he had never seen a case like this before.
Judge Drago also referenced California Vehicle Code 21655.5, noting instead subsection F, which states “It is the intent of the Legislature, in amending this section, to stimulate and encourage the development of ways and means of relieving traffic congestion on California highways and, at the same time, to encourage individual citizens to pool their vehicular resources and thereby conserve fuel and lessen emission of air pollutants.”
Judge Drago ruled against Frieman, finding him guilty of a carpool lane violation and ordering him to pay $489, which had been previously posted as bail.
Outside the courtroom, Frieman and Greene made it known that they intend to file an appeal.
“The driver is entitled to rely on the plain language that’s used,” Greene said, “and ‘person’ is what’s used on the signs along the side of the freeway. ‘Person’ is what’s used in the vehicle code, and it’s because the judge disregarded that notice provision to Mr. Frieman that I think he’s wrong and at risk for a reversal on appeal.”
Frieman also revealed that he had been intentionally driving in the carpool lane to prompt discussion and bring the issue before the court. He estimated he had been using the carpool lane without a natural passenger on-and-off for more than 10 years.
According to Frieman, his corporation, the JoMiJo Foundation, “gives money to teen homeless issues and small business opportunities.”
Greene said they would take the case “as far as required,” but said he could not guarantee it would reach the Supreme Court.
“The issue is not what the intent of the legislature is with respect to carpool lane,” Greene said. “It’s the notice that is provided to the driver. A driver can’t be expected to divide the intent of the legislature.”
Frieman has 30 days to file an appeal.
Contact Gregory Andersen at email@example.com.