PHOENIX - State Sen. Frank Antenori's driver's license should be suspended because of his failure two years ago to resolve a photo radar citation he received for speeding in Tucson.
It's clear that Antenori, a Republican candidate for the Congressional District 8 seat vacated by Gabrielle Giffords, should have been aware that he needed to clear up the ticket for going 57 in a 45 mph zone on South Alvernon Way on Aug. 13, 2009.
What isn't clear, though, is why Pima County Justice Court records show his license is suspended, while the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division said there's no indication that it ever received a notice of suspension from the county and therefore the state considers Antenori's license to be in good standing.
Antenori agreed Friday that records show he missed a court date in February 2010 but that he had no way to know his license should be suspended because of that. He said he must have overlooked the court date, and has continued driving because he was never notified of a suspension.
Now that he knows the ticket hasn't been resolved, Antenori said he intends to "go fix it."
"Monday morning, I will be down at the Pima County Courthouse, and I will figure out what happened, and I will take care of it," he said, including paying any fines. "I thought the issue was resolved, and I guess it wasn't. I'll make it right."
Pima County Justice Court records show he was issued a summons to appear on Feb. 17, 2010, after an unsuccessful bid to have the speeding ticket dismissed, claiming he was immune because it was issued while the Legislature was in special session.
When he did not appear at his hearing, the court entered a default judgment against him, imposed a $312.25 fine and ordered his license suspended and that it not be reinstated until the funds were paid.
Barbara Daniels, Pima County Justice Court operations manager, said the court sends the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division daily notifications of licenses that have been suspended.
But MVD spokesman Kevin Biesty, who had Antenori's records checked Friday, said there is no indication MVD ever received a notice from Pima County of Antenori's suspension.
No response to citation
According to court records, Antenori did not respond to the original mailed citation by the Sept. 25, 2009, deadline. That resulted in the county sending a process server Oct. 13, 2009, with a notice to appear in court Oct. 27, 2009.
That's when Antenori tried to have the case dismissed.
The senator, in a hand-written pleading, said he was entitled to claim legislative immunity because lawmakers were in session at the time the citation was issued.
But the constitutional protection against lawmakers being served with civil papers - including traffic citations - does not immunize them from eventually having to answer for the ticket once the legislative session is over. And the Legislature was not in session on Oct. 27, 2009, when Antenori made his request.
Court records show hearing officer Chris Holguin denied Antenori's request two weeks later.
His order spelled out that Antenori's options are to plead "not responsible" and seek a court hearing, plead "responsible" and pay the fine, or attend a defensive driving class to have the citation dismissed.
He gave Antenori until Dec. 16, 2009, to make a choice.
Antenori said that he did not remember being told that his immunity plea had been rejected. "I could have sworn that this thing was resolved somehow," he said.
But, asked about documents in court records - including his signed request for a hearing after the judge refused to dismiss the case - Antenori said it is very possible that occurred.
Court records show that after he requested a hearing he was directed to appear in court on Feb. 17, 2010.
He did not.
"In all likelihood, I probably missed the court date," he said.
Antenori said Feb. 17 was on a Wednesday during the regular legislative session. "I was a little busy that day."
He also said he was never notified a judgment had been entered against him as a result of his failure to appear in court. "So they don't send me a notice at all and allow me to drive around on a suspended license?" Antenori said. "I doubt that's the way it's done."
No one has been able to explain the lack of a record of a license suspension at the MVD.
Daniels said sending suspension notices from Justice Court to the MVD is a daily routine. Once that is done, Antenori would have received a minute entry from the court and a letter from the MVD about the suspension, she said.
A copy of this specific transmittal is not available, however, she said, because those electronic records have been purged due to their age.
Biesty, of MVD, said that if there was a transmittal, it would show up somewhere in the system. And he said if there were some form of tampering - something he said is highly unlikely - the system keeps an audit trail and would show if anyone had accessed Antenori's driving record.
He said he will ask MVD officials to look into the matter further this week, saying it also is possible the electronic data the county submitted was improperly coded and sent back.
Antenori bolstered his case for not knowing his license was suspended, relating that he had been pulled over since then by a DPS officer who issued him a warning after running his license and never questioned its validity.
Antenori, who also has a photo enforcement citation pending in Scottsdale for running a red light, has been a perennial foe of photo enforcement.
He tried, unsuccessfully, to get lawmakers to put a question on the November ballot to let voters decide whether the practice should remain legal in Arizona.
He also has waged a multiyear battle specifically against red-light cameras.
He has a May 12 hearing in the Scottsdale case.
Contact Kim Smith at 573-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org