A California man fighting a traffic ticket for driving solo in a carpool lane proffered a most unusual-- and potentially landmark-- defense in a Marin County court on Monday.
Jonathan Frieman, 56, of San Rafael was cited last October for driving solo in the carpool lane on Highway 101 in Novato. Under California law, a vehicle must contain two or more passengers in order to legally use such designated lanes. Frieman was cited $478 for the violation.
But Frieman, a progressive political activist, has devised a bold plan to challenge not only his citation, but also the very notion of corporate personhood. It turns out that Frieman just happened to be driving with corporate incorporation documents in his car when he was pulled over for the lane violation, and under state motor vehicle code, corporations are legally considered people. Therefore, argues Frieman, there were technically two people in the car and he wasn't breaking any law.
Ford Greene, Frieman's attorney, presented his client's case before Marin County Superior Court Judge Frank J. Drago in San Rafael on Monday afternoon.
"What we're talking about here is a pretty simple case," Greene said, citing California Vehicle Code Section 470, which states that "'Person' includes a natural person, firm, copartnership, association, limited liability company or corporation."
Greene, who is also a San Anselmo town councilman, asserted that the charge against Frieman should be dismissed, "since a corporation is a person and Mr. Frieman was traveling with a corporation."
"The evidence is undisputed, the signs say carpool is 2 or more persons," Greene pressed, arguing that the carpool law is "unconstitutionally vague."
"A citizen should not be left to guess when he is in violation of a statute," Greene argued.
Judge Drago disagreed, citing the "intent of the legislation," which is "to relieve traffic congestion on highways" and to encourage people to carpool.
"The goal is to reduce the volume of traffic on the highway," Drago said before finding Frieman guilty and imposing a $489 fine.
Frieman said he planned on appealing the decision "as far as is required." After his court appearance, Frieman told Digital Journal that his ultimate goal was to "get folks to learn more and understand the absurdity of corporate power as evidenced by their personhood."
Frieman never mentioned Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the 2010 Supreme Court decision affirming that corporations are people, money is free speech and as such, corporations and other special interests are entitled to spend as much money as they please influencing the outcome of American elections via "electioneering communications."
Frieman vehemently denied that overturning Citizens United was part of his agenda. His case "has nothing do with Citizens United," he emphatically told Digital Journal when asked about the landmark ruling. "The conflation is such an aberration that it is, in a sense, a distraction."
But earlier comments by Frieman leave no doubt where he stands on the issue of corporate personhood.
"Corporations are imaginary entities, and we've let them run wild," he told Pacific Sun last week. "Their original intent 200 years ago at the dawn of our nation was to serve human beings. So I'm wresting that power back by making their personhood serve me."