Lois Henry

Tuesday, Jul 15 2014 04:35 PM

LOIS HENRY: Yes, the U.S. Constitution applies to Kern County

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    Californian columnist Lois Henry

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By Lois Henry

I apologize.

I wanted to write a column about the people who were cited for illegal fireworks over the July 4th holiday.

Related Info

Lois Henry appears on "First Look with Scott Cox" every Wednesday on KERN 1180 AM from 9 to 10 a.m. The show is also broadcast live on www.bakersfield.com. You can get your 2 cents in by calling 842-KERN.

STATS FOR JULY 3,,4 & 5

CITY

Citations: 37 (though initially reported as 47)

Illegal fireworks seized: 700 lbs

Fires: 31

House fire: 1 in Campus Park, $225,000 loss

COUNTY

Citations: 86

Arrests: 7

Illegal fireworks seized: 3,000 lbs

Fires: One 7-acre wildland fire near Tehachapi, required helicopter and air tanker.

House fire: 1 in Rosedale, $250,000 loss

Firefighters threatened: 2

I failed. Though, in my defense, I had help.

I only received the names of those cited by the Bakersfield Fire Department late Tuesday afternoon, which didn't give me enough time to analyze the information as I had intended.

To date, I still have not received the names of those cited by the Kern County Fire Department, including the seven who were actually arrested and carted off to jail. Kern County Fire has never even acknowledged it received my repeated requests, which began July 7.

I'll get to why I need the names in a bit. First, let's explore why it's important for agencies to provide that information.

This is the United States of America.

Citizens are not arrested in the dead of night and carried off never to be heard from again.

When someone is arrested or cited (which is an arrest), the arresting agency is supposed to provide the person's name, date of arrest, location and charge.

No caveats, no time delays, no checking with mom to see if it's OK.

The founding fathers kind of had a thing about this issue. Which is why we have the 4th Amendment protecting us against arbitrary arrest.

In California, the Public Records Act reinforces the U.S. Constitution, clearly stating that the above information must be made public.

In case you were wondering, both of those laws do apply even here in Kern County.

The fact that this is connected to the 4th of July, when we celebrate exactly those fundamental laws that set this country apart, is the very definition of irony.

SIGH.

This is doubly frustrating as far as the county goes because I already had this fight with it back in 2010.

And I won. The county was forced to admit that, yes, the names of people cited for illegal fireworks are public. And, yes, the county erred by not giving me the information right away when I asked. And, yes, I was right and they were wrong. (OK, they never admitted that last part, but it's true.)

We all learned a lot from those citations in 2010, including that a Bakersfield city fire inspector named Ernie Medina had been cited by the county for illegal fireworks.

I, personally, found it extremely interesting that someone paid by tax dollars to keep us safe from potential fire threats was cited for creating an even greater threat with illegal fireworks.

This year, I had hoped to check out a pervasive rumor that a man cited by the city for illegal fireworks has received at least two similar citations in the past two years. Word is, he doesn't care. Just pays his fine and buys more bottle rockets.

If true, I wanted to check into his past cases to see if he paid the full $1,500 fine, or if he'd gotten it waived or reduced by a judge. If that was true, I wanted to know who that judge was.

For background, you should know that the city and county handle their citations differently. The city's go through the courts with fines going to the court system. County citations are handled administratively, with fines paid directly to the county.

As for the list of people cited by the county this year, I need those names to track whether the people cited do, in fact, pay their $1,500 fines. Or do they blow it off? If they blow it off, what happens? How does the county manage those collections?

I have a whole bunch more questions about these citations and how they're handled.

But I can't begin to check them out until I have the names.

Which as you know from the short civics lesson at the beginning of this column are absolutely, 100 percent, no-doubt-about-it, public information.

As soon as the county figures that out, I'll be getting back to you with more information.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry. Her column runs Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or email lhenry@bakersfield.com

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