Marin Man Hopes He's Found a Carpool Lane Excuse that Works

San Rafael activist was given a $478 ticket for riding solo in a Marin carpool lane. But he heads to court Monday to argue he wasn't alone - documents representing his corporation were in the passenger seat.

San Rafael activist Jonathan Frieman has a new tactic in one of his longstanding pet causes: taking to the carpool lane to make the case against corporate personhood.

When Frieman drove solo in the carpool lane on Highway 101 in Novato early on Oct. 2, he did so with a clear plan. When he was pulled over by a California Highway Patrol officer, Frieman claimed that he wasn’t alone: he had a pile of documents next to him that were part of a corporation he co-founded, the JoMiJo Foundation. Frieman, a 59-year-old political activist, said the state’s definition of a person includes a corporation. 

The officer disagreed, and issued Frieman a $478 ticket. He will challenge his traffic violation in Marin County Superior Court on Monday, Jan. 7, at 3 p.m. 

“The case is kind of complex. What I want [the judge] to do is say ‘no’ so that I can appeal,” he said, adding that he hopes to be able to appeal the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

“If [the judge] says ‘yes’ then everybody can ride in the carpool lane,” he said, adding that this would be one carpool excuse that works. “There’s a long history of people trying to do everything they can to ride in the carpool — from a person in a hearse with a dead body to a pregnant woman.” 

But the case isn’t about being able to ride in the lane. It’s about making a political statement.

Frieman, who made headlines in 2011 when he challenged the state Assembly candidacy of then-San Rafael City Councilman Marc Levine, said he had been trying to bring light to the “absurd” corporations-are-people definition for more than 10 years, putting himself as bait in the carpool lane roughly 25 times. 

“I don’t want corporations to be defined as persons,” he said.

Though he said his pursuit of the corporate personhood issue wasn't sparked by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling, that issue has been at the heart of the ongoing debate over campaign finance and the ruling case sparked an onslaught in corporate campaign contributions.

When asked to briefly describe the state’s rational for corporations counting as people, Frieman said he had to pack 160 years of jurisprudence, or the study and theory of law, into a few sentences. 

He continued and said it was railroad corporations in the middle of the 1800s that originally pushed for corporations to be people. “Two hundred years ago corporations were just investment tools” and only lived a short period of time, roughly 10 to 15 years, Frieman said.

Back then, “[Corporations] couldn’t give money to charities and they couldn’t give money to politics,” he said. “All of that has changed.”

Rico January 08, 2013 at 05:42 AM
This concept that corporations are people was created over 100 years ago. It was invented by the railroad corporations to seize peoples land and run their private concessions wherever thay wanted to. This is nothing new at all, except that the railroad corporations are now defunct and are taxpayer funded. So, are these stinky, polluting, noisy behemoth trains now considered "people" ? If so, it's time that we run these people out of Dodge, and the smelly horses that they rode in on 100 years ago. Bravo Frieman !!
George January 08, 2013 at 05:58 AM
Marc is doing the right thing. Problematic or unfair laws eventually die. And People are Corporations My Friend!, will eventually go that way. Really, if they were people at a minimum 20% or more of them would be jailed or shunned into oblivion, or certainly put in an insane asylum due to their anti-social behavior. Go Marc, it will make sense what you are doing much more in 2025, but you're going to right way and somebody has to start this march. Thanks.
George January 08, 2013 at 06:05 AM
Also, Mark's comment (above) when he says "you can replace 'corporation' with 'union' and you(r) statements are also true" doesn't quite square. Corporations are controlled by a board, and at most a board and a CEO, couple of top executives. So as many as 2,000,000 human beings (Walmart) who give the power and life to a corporation, the energy, have no say, no vote, compared to the dozen top people who make the political agenda the employees have to suffer in silence regarding. Whereas Unions have everybody, all their members voting on such issues, Big, BIG difference.
jane hirt January 08, 2013 at 06:13 AM
You go, Frieman! If the Supreme Court says corporations are people too, then let's have this fight! Hope it goes all the way to them (the Supreme Court), so they can see how ridiculous their argument is.
Randy Engle January 08, 2013 at 07:15 PM
This is the first truly intelligent attack I've seen on the absurdity (and the ensuing shenanigans by corporations) that corporations are people. Go Frieman and Ford. Here is a way that actually has a chance of making it up the ladder of the courts to end this travesty.


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