When Jonathan Frieman of San Rafael, Calif., was pulled over for driving alone in the carpool lane, he argued to the officer that, actually, he did have a passenger.
He waved his corporation papers at the officer, he told NBCBayArea.com, saying that corporations are people under California law.
Frieman doesn’t actually support this notion. For more than 10 years, Frieman says he had been trying to get pulled over to get ticketed and to take his argument to court — to challenge a judge to determine that corporations and people are not the same. Mission accomplished in October, when he was slapped with a fine — a minimum of $481.
Frieman has been frustrated with corporate personhood since before it became a hot button issue in 2010, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporate and union spending may not be restricted by the government under the First Amendment.
At the heart of the high court ruling was the argument that corporations — because they are composed of individuals – deserve protection under the First Amendment, which guarantees free speech.
Frieman, who faces a traffic court on Monday, plans to tell the judge that this isn’t about carpool lanes; it’s about corporate power.
“I’m just arresting their power and using it for my service to drive in the carpool lane,” he told NBC Bay Area’s Jean Elle.
University of San Francisco law professor Robert Talbot says Frieman’s argument may not hold up because it steers too far from the intent of carpool lane laws.
“A court might say, ‘Well, it says person, and a corporation is a person, so that’ll work for the carpool lane,’” Talbot told NBCBayArea.com. “It’s possible, but I doubt it.”
In an opinion piece posted to the San Rafael Patch site on May 14, 2011, Frieman broke down his argument.
A carpool lane is two or more persons per vehicle, he said. The definition of person in California’s Vehicle Code is “natural person or corporation.”
“Just imagine what THAT courtroom scene’ll be like,” he wrote.
He imagined what he might say to the judge: “Your honor, according to the vehicle code definition and legal sources, I did have a ‘person’ in my car. But Officer so-and-so believes I did NOT have another person in my car. If you rule in his favor, you are saying that corporations are not persons. I hope you do rule in his favor. I hope you do overturn 125 years of settled law.”
But before he can make grand proclamations, the officer who ticketed him must show up to court. Otherwise, his ticket may be thrown out.