By Cynthia Hoang-Duong
NEWPORT BEACH, CA – During a collections hearing at the Harbor Justice Center in Orange County Superior Court late last week, the accused struggled to explain to the judge the circumstances behind her court absences, including unemployment and homelessness.
Although initially charged and found guilty for a minor infraction of failing to stop at a stop sign on June 7, 2022, the accused’s case extended more than a year and fines and fees imposed for her absence totaled $479.
Appearing in court Thursday morning, she explained to the judge why she missed the court appearances. She recounted that on June 13, 2022, she went to court, but the ticket was not in the system. When she tried again a week later on June 21, the ticket was still not in the system.
Three months later, she requested an extension that was granted until Oct. 13.
Although she attended the court hearing on Oct. 19, she explained to the judge her concerns about employment and housing prevented her from addressing the court matter further.
She lamented, “Me and my roommate, we both had two jobs. We both lost a job. I lost a place to live…I was living out of my car for seven months. I couldn’t figure stuff out. Now, I’m in a new home and I’m starting to try and get things together. Basically what happened is I wanted to fight this because I was working on Uber Eats.”
However, the judge interrupted her, stating she pleaded “not guilty” on Oct. 19 and the court trial date was set on Nov. 28, 2022. She was ordered to appear and released on her own recognizance.
Because she was not present as she was ordered to, a trial in absentia was held in which she was found guilty and the court imposed a civil assessment of $100 for her failure to appear, the judge said, adding because she continuously failed to report to collection, her fines and fees balance increased to $379 without the civil assessment.
In response, the accused elaborated, “The failure to appear for Nov. 28 was because I had just lost my home like I had explained. So clearly, I was worried about a place to live and I was living out of my car. So, I had no place for the mail to go.”
Focusing on her point that she did not have an address for the mail, the judge interrupted again, arguing, “I’m going to interrupt just to slow you down because you were ordered present. Previous to that, you were ordered to be present on that day, so it’s not a matter of not being in a place where mail couldn’t get to you.”
However, recognizing that she attempted to fulfill her court appearances, despite communications with the court, the judge vacated the $100 civil assessment.