In the 1920s, Mobile Traffic Court Brought the Judge to You
Remember the last time you got pulled over for speeding? The cop slowly walked up behind your car, gave you a lecture about how the rules keep us all safe, and then handed you a ticket for a gajillion dollars.
Well, just be thankful there wasn't a judge and bailiff there. Because in 1926, traffic justice was mobile — at least in Inglewood, California, anyways.
The photo above was taken in July of 1926 and shows one unlucky driver in Inglewood (just outside Los Angeles) who got picked up for speeding. The city's "justice court" vehicle was on-call and able to carry a judge and bailiff right to the scene of the infraction.
The 1989 book The Great Car Craze by Ashleigh Brilliant explains Inglewood's process in the mid-1920s:
In a system which the [Los Angeles] Times dubbed "court-a-la-carte," the judge and bailiff together with table, chair, and lawbooks, were installed in the back of a light truck which "parked unostentatiously near the motorcycle officers' beat" and waited for the telltale sound of the siren, signifying that an arrest was about to be made. The truck then rushed to the site of the arrest and confronted the presumably dumfounded driver with the full majesty of the law. The only disadvantage of the system from the judge's point of view was that the "business" was not always as brisk as it might have been.
Apparently the hope was that by issuing swift justice, drivers would be even more strongly encouraged to obey the law. And you can't argue with their reasoning — imagine having to sit through court on the side of a road with the summer sun beating down on you. Unfortunately for everyone else involved — from cop to bailiff to judge — it was just as awkward, hot, and tedious.
Cars were becoming incredibly popular in Southern California during the 1920s and this period arguably did more than any other to shape the transportation landscape of Los Angeles that we know today. But the regulation of automobiles was still getting worked out, both in Inglewood and all around the world.
Thanks to its tremendous inefficiencies, California's mobile "justice court" of tomorrow would not survive for long. At least until the Jetsons tried to revive the idea in 1962.
Photo: An unlucky driver gets pulled over by "Justice Court" in 1926, scanned from the book Imagining Los Angeles: Photographs of a 20th Century City