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Murray mayor fails to get speeding ticket tossed for good (video)

Published September 6, 2013 10:53 am

Courts • Murray mayor won't back down even after 7-month old case is dismissed.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The mayor showed up to court Thursday with a pile of papers, a stack of photos, a list of witnesses and his trademark 21-inch handlebar mustache.

He was ready to fight, to expose the faults in the system, to prove why he felt Salt Lake City wasn't properly addressing safety in its school zones.

Turned out, he didn't have to.

A Salt Lake city justice court judge formally dismissed the case against Murray Mayor Dan Snarr, relieving him of the $150 fine he faced for allegedly speeding through a school zone more than seven months ago.

The charges were dropped, the violation wiped from his record. He was free to go.

And he was furious.

"Is this about justice or vengeance?" Snarr told The Salt Lake Tribune after the hearing. "Is this really about ensuring the safety of children, their parents, the crossing guards and everyone? Or is this about getting me to go away because I wouldn't pay a ticket they shouldn't have given out in the first place?"

The charges against him — a class C misdemeanor driving too fast for existing conditions, and an infraction for speeding in a school zone — were dismissedby prosecutors without prejudice Wednesday. That means prosecutors can refile the case in the future.

Snarr, who failed to persuade the judge to permanently dismiss the case "with prejudice," said he'll be ready for round two if prosecutors decide to drag him back to court.

Snarr has been the mayor of Murray for 16 years, and said he's not afraid to speak truth to power. He has long been known to treat small scuffles like they're World War III. He revels in challenges. Like growing his mustache out another 3 inches.

"I'm not going to back down when I have the truth on my side," he said.

Prosecutors declined to speculate on whether they would bring back charges against Snarr. The case was dismissed, they said, because of logistical problems involving the officer who wrote Snarr's ticket. When the judge wouldn't grant them a continuance, they felt they had to drop the case.

But, Salt Lake City chief prosecutor Padma Veeru-Collings said, the city takes school zone violations especially seriously.

"Our primary concern is, of course, justice," she said. "But the safety of our community is extremely important to us. Our vision for Salt Lake City is that it's a safe and livable community. If prosecuting cases meets that goal, we will certainly do that."

It all began in February, when Snarr was driving down State Street after attending a legislative committee meeting at the Capitol. He attempted to turn left onto Harvard Avenue, but discovered it was a one-way street that he could not legally enter. So, he sped up to get back into the flow of traffic.

That's when he was pulled over.

He was going 32 mph, according to the ticket. That's 12 mph over the school zone limit of 20 mph and just 2 mph over the usual speed limit of 30 mph on State Street.

Prosecutors argued his speed was dangerous for existing conditions — children and parents walking the area, and traffic slowing down.

Snarr contends that the blinking light meant to alert drivers to the school zone was malfunctioning, and officers on the scene were issuing tickets rather than attempting to control the flow of traffic. He was "really annoyed" that police did nothing to alert drivers to the school zone and officials to the busted sign, he said.

"Nobody from Salt Lake City called UDOT and told them the light was broken; they're down there just citing people," Snarr said. "The more I got into this and found out what was going on, the more agitated I got. Do they care about the safety of the kids? Or do they just care about issuing tickets?"

That's why when Salt Lake City prosecutors tried to offer Snarr a plea deal that would have lessened the charge and the fine, Snarr declined.

Had he accepted, he would have been charged with violating the speed limit by 2 mph.

"Have you ever heard of an officer citing someone for going 2 mph over the speed limit?" Snarr asked.

The chief prosecutor hasn't.

"Is it a violation of the law? Technically it would be," Veeru-Collings said. "But I've never seen an officer cite someone for that, no."

Judge LG Cutler declined to permanently dismiss the case against Snarr because, he said, he was not treated unfairly in these proceedings. Snarr disagreed.

As he made his case to the judge, Snarr's famous white handlebar mustache quivered with agitation, causing defendants in the gallery to chuckle and whisper.

He pointed to prosecutors' late notice of his dismissal (the day before his scheduled Thursday bench trial)and their refusal to provide discovery — a list of people who have ever been prosecuted for going 2 mph over the speed limit in Salt Lake City — as unfair treatment.

"It's not that I'm just trying to get out of a ticket," Snarr said outside of court. "When I'm guilty, I'm guilty. But when I believe I'm right, I stand up and I never sit down."

mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Marissa_Jae