The Speeding Ticket That Sent a Judge to Jail

In January of 2006, Marcus Einfeld was driving around in Mosman, Australia, a suburb of Sydney, going about 60 km/hr (about 40-45 mph). Unfortunately for him, the road he was on was a 50 km/hr zone, and even more unfortunately, a police officer was there. The officer pulled Einfeld over and wrote him a ticket in the amount of A$77 (about $50 US). It wasn’t an amount Einfeld couldn’t afford — he was a former judge of Australia’s Federal Court, and generally a well-regarded member of Australia’s legal community. And admitting to driving 10 km/hr (6 mph) over the speed limit is hardly something shameful. But Einfeld decided not to pay the fine, for a very simple reason: he claimed he wasn’t driving the car. His friend, an American professor (and Australian expat) named Teresa Brennan, had been visiting Einfeld in Australia and was actually the person behind the wheel. When Einfeld explained this to the local court on August 7, 2006, the court agreed to cancel the speeding ticket.

As a result, Einfeld ended up in prison.

A local court hearing about a judge with a speeding ticket shouldn’t have attracted much if any, attention. But for a new-ish reporter at The Daily Telegraph, a Sydney-area newspaper, it was good enough to warrant a brief write-up for the August 8 edition of the paper. When that reporter fielded the report, it came across the desk of the paper’s associate editor, Michael Beach. And Beach knew, almost immediately, that something was amiss. He was familiar with the work of Teresa Brennan — and knew that she had died three years earlier. The reporter, on Beach’s instruction, called Einfeld asking for clarification. At first, Einfeld sued the newspaper in hopes of stopping publication, but that didn’t work. So the judge decided to double down on his lie, claiming he wasn’t driving.

When pressed for details, Einfeld offered more lies. The BBC outlined a few of them:

He said he didn’t mean that Theresa Brennan. He meant another Theresa Brennan. A Greek chorus at this point might have said that the judge was anything but a natural liar, because he lied so very badly, just like most of us.

Further proofs of his amateur status followed in quick succession.

Finally, in a skein of inventions that we needn’t bother to unravel, he managed to implicate his own mother, aged 94, when he claimed to have been using her Toyota Corolla that day, so he couldn’t have been at the wheel of his silver Lexus.

Alas, there was security camera footage to prove that his mother’s Toyota Corolla had not emerged from the garage of her apartment block between daylight and dusk. We were left with the thought picture of a team of trained investigators examining a whole day’s worth of CCTV footage to establish that a Toyota Corolla had remained stationary throughout. With that thought picture, and with the thought picture of a man of true stature with his life in ruins.

Again, all over the equivalent of about $77. The judge didn’t have a perfect driving record beforehand — he had a few points on his license and this infraction would get him closer to losing his license altogether — but as the story spiraled, that became a minor concern. The bigger one? The courts didn’t look kindly on his lies. He was arrested in March of 2007 and at first, charged with thirteen different counts that could have put him in prison for more than 150 years, which is to say, the rest of his life.

That didn’t quite come to pass, but Einfeld ended up behind bars. In October of 2008, at age 70, he pleaded guilty to perjury and perverting the course of justice. In March 2009, Einfeld was sentenced to three years in prison, with a minimum of two years before he was eligible for parole — all because he didn’t want to pay a rather small speeding ticket.

Bonus fact: Speeding tickets may be responsible for giving us Star Wars. In 1967, George Lucas — the filmmaker behind the franchise — graduated from the University of Southern California and co-founded a production company with Francis Ford Coppola. He also enrolled in USC’s grad program for filmmaking and landed a scholarship sponsored by Warner Bros., giving him access to learn filmmaking from the experts, and setting him on his way toward stardom. What does this have to do with speeding tickets? Lucas didn’t intend to start a production company right after graduating — he intended to enlist in the U.S. Air Force. But, as Wikipedia’s editors explain, “he was immediately turned down because of his numerous speeding tickets.”

From the Archives: Slow and Steady Wins the Lottery: The reverse speeding ticket.