Visitors to the Compton Courthouse traffic court face long lines, high fees

A no-win situation image

The way William Kirkwood sees it, he’s going to end up back in jail either way. He’s not actually at the Compton Courthouse for himself. He’s here with his brother. But later in the week he’s got his own traffic arraignment downtown for a Metro ticket. He’s not sure how much the ticket will cost him, but he’s failed to appear at several previous hearings and figures he owes at least a couple hundred dollars by now.

“If I don’t have money to pay them, how am I going to pay them?” Kirkwood asked. “If I go to commit a crime to try and pay off this ticket, then what? I’m gonna go back to jail, right? If I don’t pay the ticket, then they’re going to track me down and I’ll go to jail. I’m in a no-win situation with this court.”

Indeed, no love seems lost between Kirkwood and the Compton Courthouse. Earlier he was kicked out of the room where his brother was giving his plea. Before the arraignments began, the bailiff was clear about not coming in the courtroom unless your name was posted on a list by the door. Kirkwood ignored the rule and went in with his brother. He said he doesn’t trust what goes on inside those rooms.

“I could be out here for four hours while he’s handcuffed and going to jail,” he said. It was his excess talking that eventually got him kicked out.

Kirkwood’s got his complaints, but he’s also got ideas. He thinks traffic court could be better with a few improvements.

“For one, the long wait we have to wait. We’re out here at 8 in the morning, and things don’t start until 11.”

In the Compton Courthouse, traffic court does begin at 9, but only for people with trials. People who come to plead guilty or not guilty have to wait in the hallway until the trials are done—usually about a two-hour process.

“Then they need to change the way they talk to people,” Kirkwood continued. “They think they can talk to you any kind of way, like you’re a kid. I’m not a kid. I’m a grown man. I expect respect.”

In a word, frustrated.

Padraig O’Callaghan comes from a different world than Kirkwood. He grew up in Dublin, Ireland, and has never, before today, been inside a courthouse for a ticket. But in many ways, his sentiments are the same.

O’Callaghan said the instructions about appearing in court said to arrive before 9, so he was here at 8:50. He didn’t know he’d have to wait for the trials to finish up first. At around 10:30, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, he sighed.

“If I had to choose one word to describe the mood right now, it would be ‘frustrated.’”

He’s right. About 40 people lined the sides of the hallways outside the traffic courtroom. Several had resorted to sitting on the floor. About half had their cell phones out, texting or playing games. A toddler tugged at her mom’s shirt, upset, and started moaning, “Mommy, mommy,” over and over again.

At one point, the traffic court cashier opened her office door, stuck her head out into the hallway, and snappily asked, “Whoever is banging on the wall, please stop.” Everyone looked around befuddled. No one had been banging.

Minutes ticked by, and more people started to sit on the ground. The toddler’s complaints turned into full on crying. Someone made a comparison about being stuck on an airplane.

“Poor kiddo,” said O’Callaghan.

At 10:55, the traffic court bailiff, Deputy Stannard, appeared in the hallway. He cupped his hands around his mouth and announced that everyone needed to form four lines, one on each of the big rows of white tiles on the floor.

“Not the brown squares. Stand on four white squares,” he repeated.

O’Callaghan rolled his eyes. He whispered, “I feel like a sheep.”

Stannard clarified the purpose of traffic arraignment court to the group. “All you’re gonna do is tell the judge guilty or not guilty. The judge is not here to hear your case.”

image“If you want a trial, he continued, “you have to pay the ticket first, and if you don’t have the money, the judge doesn’t care.”

The judge Stannard referred to is Ellen C. Deshazer. Stannard said she’s been the traffic judge at the Compton Courthouse for about a year and a half. The last judge was there three years. They don’t usually stay much longer than that, Stannard said.

Stannard continued his pre-arraignment speech, reminding people that if they wanted community service, there was still a fee for that, and it wasn’t an option if someone already had a job.

“If you want community service you have to ask to the judge.” He repeated the phrase again, word for word. “Don’t tell me later that you didn’t hear me say that—because if you didn’t hear me say it, three times now, then frankly you shouldn’t get anything.”

He advised people with tickets for driving solo in the carpool lane to avoid claiming another driver ran them off the road and forced them into the special lane.

“It’s a running joke about swerving into the carpool lane around here.” He said. “Don’t try it.”

His final piece of advice was not to blame a child for a seatbelt violation. “No one believes your kid unbuckled your seatbelt.”

As he ushered people into the courtroom, he asked the woman with the crying child, now slightly calmer, to stay outside. He would come and get her when her name was called. Later, he came back into the hall and the two made small talk. He looked at her ticket and said she could reduce her fine by going to traffic school.

The woman seemed unsure. She didn’t think she’d have time.

“Oh, it’s not a big deal,” Stannard said. He explained she could do the course online, from her home.

“I’d get a pizza and have some friends over,” he said. “Put the little one to bed and make a night out of it.”

Thoughts to share, but no chance to speak

Robert Rocha has been to his fair share of L.A. County traffic courts. He likes the one in San Pedro the best.

“At San Pedro, they take everyone in at the same time,” he said. “That way you’re not left waiting with no chairs.”

He’s also had plenty of interactions with court employees. Deputy Stannard yelled at Rocha and his friend for talking while he was trying to give his pre-court speech.

Rocha’s friend is waiting for his sister to get out of traffic court. He thinks she’ll have to pay $1,000–two $500 tickets for the same thing. Rocha’s not sure what his friend’s sister got a ticket for. He thinks it might be a DUI, but probably not, since that’s a matter handled in a different courtroom.

“Maybe open container then,” he speculated as he checked his watch. Rocha had to make it to a parole meeting in Long Beach after wrapping up here.

Suddenly, Kirkwood emerged from the courtroom, a goofy grin on his face, despite having just been kicked out. Rocha doesn’t know Kirkwood, but they bond over their mutual dislike of Deputy Stannard.

Rocha makes a joke about black and brown relations. Kirkwood is black and Rocha is Latino.

“Yeah, they say we’re not supposed to get along, but look at this love,” said Kirkwood, wrapping an arm around Rocha’s shoulder.

O’Callaghan came out shortly after and made his way into another line, this one to pay the cashier.

He pleaded guilty to riding a Metro bus without the appropriate pass. He said he bought a weeklong pass on a Saturday, but broke his rib the following Monday and ended up not using the pass until two weeks later. In Ireland, he said, bus riders validate their passes once they get on the bus, so the week doesn’t begin until you actually use the pass. He didn’t know the week starts at the date of purchase in LA.

“It’s quite draconian that you can’t even speak up,” he said. “That’s $180. Just gone.”

O’Callaghan would have liked to have had a trial and explained his case, but he didn’t want to take another day off of work to come back to the court.

He took one last glance at the receipt from the cashier’s office before folding it in half and stuffing it in his pocket.

“No Irish luck today,” he said.

Special education lawsuit against Compton Unified reaches U.S. Supreme Court

imageA suit brought against the Compton Unified School District has reached the U.S. Supreme Court and, on Monday, the Obama administration.

The U.S. Supreme Court reached out to the U.S. solicitor general’s office for its views on a negligence claim brought against Compton Unified.

The suit was brought on the basis that the school district failed to identify a high school student’s disabilities, which the plaintiff argued violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

According to Education Week, during the student’s 10th grade year, teachers became concerned about the nature of her school work. She was referred to a mental health counselor, who recommended an evaluation for learning disabilities. The district failed to heed this recommendation and promoted the student to 11th grade.

Only when mother of the student argued for an individualized education program for her daughter did Compton Unified determine the student was eligible for special education programs.

The mother filed an administrative claim under IDEA, arguing the district failed under the law’s “child find” requirement to adequately and promptly identify the learning disorder.

The administrative judge found in favor of the plaintiff.

Compton Unified appealed its case, arguing that if the family won, students would be able to file “educational malpractice” suits against school districts. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided once again with the plaintiff.

The appealed case, Compton Unified School District v. Addison, remains in the high court. The request for an opinion from the solicitor general’s office is expected to take months.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Compton Community College District Special Trustee appoints Independent Audit Review Committee

News release from El Camino College Compton Center

Following on the heels of the Compton Community College District (CCCD) State of the District address, Dr. Genethia Hudley-Hayes has established an Independent Audit Review Committee for the CCCD. The inaugural meeting of the Audit Committee will take place on April 14, 2011 at 5:00 p.m. in the Faculty/Staff Lounge at the CCCD.

“The 2009 external audit for the District included twenty-two material findings; and last year there were twenty material findings,” stated Hudley-Hayes. “The District’s role in preparing for future accreditation includes appropriate fiscal practices and policies. This committee along with the consulting firm of Vasquez and Company will assist us in getting our financial house in order.”

The Audit Review Committee is responsible for reviewing the activities and effectiveness of independent auditors, as well as for the review of policies and procedures which substantially impact the finances and operations of the CCCD. The Audit Committee is convened by the Special Trustee; and must report its findings, conclusions and recommendations to the Special Trustee.

Vasquez and Company will address four areas for the District which include: identifying issues in the fiscal area and developing a work plan and timeline to address these concerns; providing staff training in appropriate practices and policies; recommending appropriate technology enhancements; and providing best practices especially relative to economies and efficiencies for the financial area of the District.

Members of the Independent Audit Review Committee:
Dr. Joseph Zeronian, Adjunct Professor, University of Southern California
Cheryl Branch, Executive Director, Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches (LAM)
Charles Davis, President, CCCD Board of Trustees
Clifford Graves, Interim City Manager, City of Carson
JoAnn Higdon, El Camino College Vice President, Administrative Services
Willie Norfleet, City Manager, City of Compton
Richard Powers, Executive Director, Gateway Cities Council of Governments (COG)
Robert Torrez, Assistant City Manager, City of Lynwood
Danny Villanueva, Chief Business Officer, CCCD

Committee members serve as volunteers and receive no remuneration for their services.

About the Compton Community College District
The Compton Community College District serves the communities of Carson, Compton, Enterprise, North Long Beach, Lynwood, Paramount and Willowbrook. The District is governed by a state-appointed Special Trustee, who works with the five-member elected Board of Trustees. Board meetings are held the second Tuesday of each month and are open to the public. The District is located at 1111 E. Artesia Boulevard, Compton, CA, 90221.

Judge Kelvin Filer talks growing up in Compton


Kelvin D. Filer is a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge in Compton.

A native of the hub city, Judge Filer has been on the bench since 2002 after being appointed by former Gov. Gray Davis.

We sat down with Judge Filer inside his Compton chambers.


Photo courtesy of University of California Santa Cruz

Read more on this topic:
Compton student wins $40,000 for college from the free throw line
Arlon Watson given long sentence for murder of Compton teenager

Arlon Watson given long sentence for murder of Compton teenager

Problems and solutions

Judge Eleanor J. Hunter was not happy with Arlon Watson’s behavior in court. She was fed up with his giggling, irreverence, and open disdain for the prosecution. But before she spoke directly to the convicted murderer, she said a few words about his family. “I know your family has been here throughout this process,” she said. “And they’ve been kind and courteous. Your people have been great in this court. But looking at you, Mr. Watson, I can see that in this instance, the apple did indeed fall very far from the tree.”

After over three weeks of trial and jury deliberation, Judge Hunter sentenced 22-year-old Compton resident Arlon Watson to 80 years to life in prison for the fatal shooting of high school student Dannie Farber, Jr.

Earlier in the week, a jury found Watson guilty of first-degree murder. In contrast to the dress shirts and slacks he wore during the trial, Watson appeared before the judge on Wednesday in a blue LA County Jail jumpsuit. He declined to make a public statement.

Two members of Farber’s family took the opportunity to stand up and share what was on their hearts. Kenneth McGee, who helped raise Farber from early on, said justice would be served if the judge gave Watson “whatever he’s got coming to him.” McGee choked back tears and excused his language as he described Farber as “one hell of a good athlete.” He remembered the shock of going from helping to plan a high school prom to suddenly planning a funeral. As he spoke, Farber’s mother, Danielle Lewis, crossed her arms on the back of the seat in front of her and put her head in the crook of her elbow.

Farber’s aunt, Rachel Malveaux, struggled to make it through her first sentence, her voice cracking as soon as she began to speak. A clerk brought her a box of tissues. “Parents are supposed to go before you,” she said, “but these days it seems like children are going before their parents.”

Watson appeared unaffected by the words of Farber’s family. He smiled eerily and exchanged seemingly light-hearted words with his attorney as McGee and Malveaux spoke.

After the family’s statements, Deputy District Attorney Joe Porras said he had submitted a recommendation for sentencing to the judge, hoping she would take into consideration a prior conviction for robbery and gang and gun allegations that were also found to be true.

Porras also offered an emotional reaction at the end of the trial. “I’ve worked on around 30 murder trials, and this is the only one where the murder was actually captured on video,” Porras said, referring to a security tape from the restaurant where Farber was eating when he was shot. “Those 40 seconds of video are going to be with me long after retirement.”

Defense attorney Tracy Grayson had nothing to say on behalf of Watson, but did object to Porras’ statements, saying they were part of an overly emotional and rehearsed act put on for the news camera in the courtroom.

Judge Hunter overruled his objection.

Before officially issuing the sentence, the judge spoke pointedly to Watson.

“You can smile and giggle all you want, but you’re a murderer,” she said. “You can go back to your gang people and high five them, but one day my words will come back and haunt you.”

“It’s not just that you took a life. It’s the life you took,” Hunter continued. “People can be a part of the problem or a part of the solution. Dannie Farber was part of the solution and you are part of the problem.”

Hunter gave Watson the maximum sentence, 80 years to life, for the combination of his murder, gang, gun, and robbery charges. She said the possibility for parole was unlikely.

Hunter concluded: “We saw pure evil in this court, and is you, Arlon Watson.”

A family still in mourning

Listen to audio of Kennth McGee reacting to the sentencing of Arlon Watson.

For Farber’s family members, who have been in court for every day of the trial, the morning of the sentencing felt like the emotional culmination of the long search for Farber’s murderer.

Sitting outside the courtroom, Farber’s mother reflected on the guilty verdict and sentencing.

“I’m just glad it’s over, just happy that justice was served,” she said. “It won’t bring Dannie back, but I’m glad Watson’s off the street, somewhere where he won’t be able to hurt another family like he hurt our family.”

Michelle Malveaux, Farber’s grandmother agreed. “I’m happy for the verdict. I’m ready to get my party on.”

Around 25 friends and family members of Farber’s attended the hearing, and Malveaux seemed to be the cheerleader of the bunch, greeting everyone as they gathered. She wore a pin with a picture of Farber, but wished she could have made T-shirts. “We make T-shirts to celebrate everything related to Dannie,” she explained. “Dannie’s birthday, holidays, everything, we do a T-shirt. I’ve got a sign in my front yard with his picture on it. After today, I’m getting another sign that says ‘justice is served.’”

Once she sat down, her energy momentarily waned. Today she felt a particular kind of sadness, similar to how she felt the day she first learned Farber had been killed. “It’s not my body that’s tired,” she said, “It’s my brain.”

McGee shared a similar sentiment. “Emotions are running high today,” he said.

He tipped his head back, and spoke about Dannie. “Whatever he set his mind out to do, he achieved. He had this football shirt that said ‘Finish’ on it, so whenever I’m struggling, I think about that. I’m going to finish everything I start, including coming to every single day of this trial.

“The worst part now is watching your son’s mother cry every night and morning and not being able to fix it. I can fix a lot of things, but not a broken heart.”

Beyond wreaking emotional havoc, the trial has also taken a physical toll on McGee, who switched his shift at Metro to work at night. Every morning for almost the past month, McGee would come to court straight off his work shift, go home, “sleep for an hour or two” in the afternoon and return to his night shift at Metro that evening.

McGee said Watson was a coward. “People say it’s a loss on both sides. I don’t feel that way. His family can still go see him in prison, but I’ve got to go to a cemetery if I want to see my son.”

“Today I feel satisfaction, but not closure,” he said. “I still live with the pain every day.”

Other stories on the Arlon Watson Trial:
Compton Court hears closing arguments in Arlon Watson Trial

Watson trial offers glimpse inside deadly deep-rooted gang rivalries

Compton ranks eighth most dangerous city in nation, residents disagree

Listen to the audio story:


CQ Press’s new rankings are out for the nation’s most dangerous cities. Compton ranks eighth in the nation, based on rates of murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and motor vehicle theft.

But a lot of Compton residents disagree. Paula Parker was waiting for a bus. She has lived in Compton since 1968, and cites the toy drives and the turkey giveaways, the great churches, and a mayor and city council she heartily approves of.

“We just have a lot of good things people don’t come and see in Compton!” Parker said. “All they want to come see is the bad stuff!”

Compton City Manager Willie Norfleet noted the city’s high unemployment rate, at more than 20 percent, and he quoted Aristotle, saying when there is poverty, there will be crime or revolution. He also said new jobs provided by a Burlington Coat Factory might help, in addition to the new Gateway Plaza.

But while most people thought Compton was a fine city to buy a home and raise kids, Lisa in the Sheriff’s Department substation showed up to report a crime. She did not want to say what it was regarding, but she looked tired and sad. She worries every day about her kids, she said, and if she could, she would move out of Compton. She has family in Virginia.

Compton beauty queen speaks out for her community

Listen to the audio story:


Read the audio script:

LeTania Kirkland: You’re hoping to represent Compton as Miss California USA. What made you decide to represent in this way?

Shanice McKinley: Even since high school, I always wanted to come back to my community and be a leader and a role model, because a lot of our youth, we don’t have that. They don’t have many people to look up to and say, ‘They did something amazing.’ When I got offered that opportunity, I said, ‘This is the perfect way to get the message out. Everyone knows about Miss California.’

Kirkland: Would you have ever considered being part of a beauty competition before this opportunity?

McKinley: No, I actually wouldn’t. I would’ve never imagined so much would come out of this beauty pageant. I thought that it would get some attention as far as getting the message out. I didn’t know it would inspire so many people. I had people cry while I’m there giving my vision. I had people shouting out their cars, so many kids giving me hugs and parents telling me thank you.

Kirkland: And you call yourself ‘Miss Birthing a New Compton,’ the city’s new motto. Why did you decide upon that?

McKinley: I mean, Compton has really changed so much and the old brand of Compton… Compton has a very strong brand. You can go to Africa, and they’d probably know about Compton. The things that are associated with that brand are so negative, and I love the city’s slogan, ‘Birthing a New Compton,’ and that’s the message that I wanted to get out to the people, that this is not the same Compton anymore. We have changed so much, so I thought that would actually be the perfect slogan, so when people hear Compton, they’ll have a different taste in their mouth.

Kirkland: How do you plan on bringing your own success, past and future, back to the community?

McKinley: My whole envision is this youth center. I’m actually starting a freelance marketing business right after this pageant, and with the profits I get, I would donate 10 percent of it to building this youth center. The vision of the youth center is that they will be able to operate as a resource center to connect youth to their dreams, like financial aid, SAT scores, help them prepare for becoming a business owner or doctor. We’ll help them step by step to get those met.

Kirkland: The competition is this weekend. Are you nervous?

McKinley: Oh yeah. I’m nervous, I feel so pressured. But this is what I’ve been working for. These three months, this is why I’ve been talking to people, this is why I’ve been sharing my vision.

Funding goes to new building for patients at Compton clinic

By: Emily Frost and Dan Watson

Listen to the audio story:


Read the audio script:

It is 5:30 a.m., and we just pulled into the parking lot at St. John’s Well Child and Family Center in Compton. There is already a line of about four of five people. It is drizzling, and it is very dark.

Antonio, who goes by Tony, was first in line. He seemed pretty proud about it. When he had come before, he said he was about 13th in line; he had counted. This time, he told his wife he was going to be first, and he was. But he was expecting that about 8:30 a.m., when the clinic opens, that he would be in and out. He hoped it would only take about 15 minutes, so it would not shoot down his whole day.

Melvin Richardson arrived a little after 7:30 a.m.

“I had stomach problems one day that led me to find out I had a hernia,” Richardson said. “I just recently, in the last 90 days, got laid off. I was working for a big trucking company, and they closed down. I was there for six-and-a-half years,” Richardson said.

Richardson is now without insurance.

“It is a little crowded. And the wait time, personally it is a little long. ‘Cause I think I came like, last week, and I had an appointment for like, 1:30, and I didn’t get out of here until 4:30,” Richardson said.

Jesus Rios also waited quietly. He, too, was an out of work trucker.

“You know the line, look at that now, it’s growing,” said Rios, laughing. “You know, I come over here because I finished my medicine.”

At St. John’s, Rios’ diabetes medicine is free, unless the clinic runs out. If it does, his medication costs about $200 for a month’s supply at the pharmacy. That is nothing, though, compared to his visit to the emergency room.

“See, I go to the hospital for one day, forget it,” Rios said. “Those people have no heart. They send me a bill for $2,000, $2,000 for nothing,” Rios said.

Rios made sure to arrive early because if there are not enough doctors that day, the clinic will turn people away after the first 10 or 15 patients. If Rios does not get a chance to be seen, “You go home and try to find medicine with your friends,” he said.

And he will get there earlier next time.

By mid-morning, Richardson, who was coming in preparation for his hernia surgery, was running out of patience.

“This right here is outrageous,” he said. “I hope they get me out of here. It’d be their best bet to get me out of here because I will get a little louder again. And I hate to say it, but that’s what it takes sometimes. I don’t want to be up here eight hours. I have a life to live the same way they have.”

Tony was also reaching a breaking point. Though he was first in line and thought he would be in and out in 15 minutes, the clinic staff could not find his file. He was still waiting five hours later.

“He can’t find it,” Tony said. “He says he lost it. I can’t believe it. I no go to my work today, but coming over here. I was first, the first guy waiting outside. Five, yeah, I think it’s been five hours.”

By the end of the day, the clinic had seen 85 people; many waited all day.

Compton life expectancy among lowest in Los Angeles County

A report released by the public health department titled “Life Expectancy in Los Angeles County” suggests that Compton ranks among the lowest life expectancy in L.A. County. Although the life expectancy rate overall has risen steadily, increasing from 75.8 years in 1991 to 80.3 years in 2006, a visible gap still exists between some of L.A.‘s geographical, economic and ethnic communities.




The report describes a “striking 17.5 year difference” in life expectancy between those at the top of the ladder — Asian women — and those at the bottom — African American males. Additionally, the report showed that economic hardship affects life expectancy levels, although perhaps not as extremely as might initially be assumed. In cities such as Baldwin Park, Bell and Huntington Park, where the economic hardship rating is considered “high,” life expectancy rates are relatively high also.

There are, however, anomalies where economic hardship and life expectancy do not seem to correlate at all. La Mirada, for example, suggests a contradiction: although the economic hardship level ranks in the first quartile, life expectancy is ranked in the fourth quartile at just 78.9 years.

The leading cause of death for both men and women in L.A. County is coronary heart disease. This and motor vehicle accidents in third position are the only areas men and women tie. The second leading cause of death for women is breast cancer, while men are killed by homicide. Homicide ranks in eighth place for women. Men are more likely to die from HIV and suicide, neither of which rank in the top ten for women.



There is marked difference between ethnic groups for leading causes of death. White and Asian men and women are more likely to die from heart disease, while Black and Hispanic men and women are more likely to die by homicide. Black men and women are least likely of all ethnic groups to die by suicide.



The report suggests a number of ways to increase life expectancy for L.A. County, including creating smoke-free environments, reducing alcohol and drug consumption, reducing the spread of HIV, and increasing access to medical care.

In the latter case, However, L.A. County may face some difficulty. Budget cuts may soon make their way into the medical industry. According to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the county is currently preparing to reduce county medical facilities by half.



WORKSHOP: Empowerment through community journalism and social media

The Internet has drastically changed the media landscape. With the accessibility of information, the ease of self-publishing and the decreasing cost of technology, the power to provide voice to a community is being handed back to citizens themselves. Mainstream media outlets have traditionally reported from a top-down perspective: coming into a community as outsiders, and covering it as such. But residents have many advantages when it comes to community reporting, including expertize, personal investment and passion, as well as a heightened ability to gain trust.

In this workshop, residents are given an overview of the purpose of citizen journalism and the tools available.