Corporations and carpools

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Jonathan Frieman, my new hero

I absolutely love this story: A Marin activist named Jonathan Frieman, who runs a small nonprofit corporation (the JoMiJo Foundation) was driving in the carpool lane on highway 101 in Marin when he was stopped by a cop and given a $478 ticket. Ah, but Frieman insists he wasn't driving alone; beside him in the car were the articles of incorporation and other relevant corporate paperwork for his foundation — and in the United States, corporations are considered people. In fact, the California Vehicle Code refers to “natural persons or corporations.”

So Frieman is challening his ticket in traffic court, and is willing to spend his own money to appeal the case as far as he can. He wants to force the courts to decide: If a corporation is a person, then it gets to ride with a driver in the carpool lane, and his ticket has to be dismissed. If it's not a person, then maybe it can't make political contributions.In fact, if a corporation isn't a person, a whole lot of evil stuff might come to an end.

Could a traffic fine be the ticket to that ruling? Who knows -- and at the very least, Frieman is helping point up the absurdity of the current state of the law.

This is no fluke, by the way: Frieman, a longtime community activist, has been looking for ways to challenge corporate personhood for more than a decade. He's convened legal scholars, looked for avenues to challenge the notion that corporations have the same rights as the rest of us -- and along the way, came up with this idea.

It's taken a while because the California Highway Patrol hasn't been all that vigilant. "I've been driving up and down 101 in the carpool lane with my corporate papers for years," Frieman told me. "I never got a ticket until October 2."

His first hearing is in Marin's traffic court in San Rafael on Jan. 7.