Shortage of guards drives traffic cases out of Calif. court


...TTC SAN FRANCISCO -- More than 300 traffic offenders, including speeders and owners of towed cars, unexpectedly hit the jackpot when their cases were summarily dismissed amid a flap over courtroom security.

The city could lose more than $50,000 because of Tuesday's dismissals, court officials said.

Traffic court referees threw out hundreds of cases because the Police Department was too short-staffed to provide officers to guard all the courts. The referees refused to conduct hearings for fear of disruptions or violence.

Referee Agatha Hoff, one of three who dismissed cases, said 200 offenders were stunned when she told them to go home.

"First, they looked at me in utter disbelief," she said. "I told them, 'If you don't believe in Santa Claus, now's the time to do so.' "

The referees decided it would be unfair to postpone hearings because it would inconvenience people.

The offenses included speeding, disobeying red lights and stop signs, abandoning cars and parking illegally. One defendant owed $300.

The security guards were back on the job yesterday, and the referees went back to court as usual.

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