After numerous complaints, Administrative Law Judge Brian Levine of Staten Island has been ordered by an arbitrator to take anger management and human relations classes. This being the result of a 2009 incident during an open court session where Judge Levine began a heated tirade that was directed at an MTA worker defending himself on a traffic violation. Judge Levine has earned a reputation among Staten Island motorists and attorneys assigned to defend traffic violations in his court as being one of the nastiest and toughest judges in the state.
Judge Levine works for the Traffic Violation Bureau (TVB), a division of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. The TVB has locations throughout the State of New York, including locations in the five boroughs of New York City, Buffalo, Rochester and some parts of Suffolk County. These TVB locations combined handle close to 800,000 cases a year and raise over $40 million annually.
The reason why the TVB has such a higher conviction rate than the average municipal court is because the TVB does not allow for “plea bargains” or reductions of the original traffic ticket. This means that motorists have only two options in the TVB: plead guilty to the charge and pay the fines without going to trial or take the matter to trial and face odds that are heavily in favor of the police officer.
The money the TVB raises is directly related to the conviction rate, i.e. the rate at which the judge finds motorists guilty. The more convictions, the more revenue generated. However, this does not always mean that justice is being served.
The TVB is arguably one of the toughest traffic courts in the nation due to the no plea bargain rule, and yet Judge Levine has been known to make things that much harder. The average conviction rate for traffic violations in New York City is 62%, however Judge Levine boasts a conviction rate of 77.8%. Those who are lucky enough to find a dismissal usually obtain a victory because the police officer that issued the ticket did not show up to court. It is estimated that the cases before Judge Levine have generated over $1 million in fines and $617,000 in surcharges each year. In addition to his high conviction rate, he also said to be extremely curt with motorists and often does not pay any attention to the explanations that drivers give in court.
In a notable case, Judge Levine threatened to arrest an MTA worker if the document that was submitted was found to be a forgery. According to www.silive.com an arbitrator was forced to intervene and ordered Levine attend a counseling program focused on “human relations” and “anger management” after a formal complaint was filed. The court transcripts showed that Levine was not happy that the MTA worker brought in a photocopy of a document. Levine stated, “No photocopies. Not that I’m telling you that you guys would have the audacity to make phony photocopies. I’ll be very blunt with you. I think you guys would. OK. I don’t trust the MTA. I don’t trust any government agency.” He went on to threaten the motorists by stating that they would be arrested if there was any evidence of a forgery.
The TVB was originally established to alleviate the large volume of cases that New York generates every year. The New York State Bar Association has written numerous investigative reports on the Traffic Violations Bureau and its clear bias in favor of police and that the TVB’s sole function is to raise revenue for New York State.