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State’s high court hearing Myrtle Beach helmet cases

February 3, 2010

4:50 p.m.: The justices have recessed. No opinion was given, and there is no time frame for when it will be issued.

4:30 p.m.: Attorney Ballard, whose first name has not been stated, an associate of McGrath’s, is beginning her arguments against the municipal court’s jurisdiction over helmet ordinances.

Justice Toal is asking how Greenville is enforcing the smoking ban the high court upheld. The justices and the attorney are discussing whether those bans can be adjudicated in municipal court, either, and considering the idea that maybe they cannot.

Mike Battle, representing the city, is now making his arguments in this case. He’s saying that the statute that sets up municipal court gives out the right for the court to try all cases that arise under city ordinances.

In fact, seatbelt violations are civil infractions, and they are adjudicated in municipal court in Myrtle Beach.

Battle is wrapping up his arguments and McGrath’s team will have time for a rebuttal.

Ballard is arguing that the entire chapter creating municipal courts is talking about criminal law, not civil law.

4:25 p.m.: Justice Donald Beatty is asking McGrath about the safety specifications of helmets and the federal, state and city regulations.

McGrath is telling the court the city’s safety specifications directly conflict with state law because they outline helmets that are not allowed to be sold in South Carolina.

4:20 p..m.: McGrath has begun making his arguments. Does the local government have the power to pass a law that’s in conflict with state law? he asked.

He argues that the state amended the 1967 statewide helmet law specifically to give people older than 21 the right to choose whether to wear a helmet.

4 p.m.: Viers is making his rebuttals. Justice Pleicones is telling him the city has a legitimate interest in regulating noise, lewd acts, and controlling nuisances. “You’re not trying to say that’s not legitimate, right?” the justice asked.

Viers said he’s not trying to argue that, he’s simply saying that it’s not right for the city to try and regulate helmets for people 21 and older.

The justices have recessed as the arguments are ended in the Viers case.

In the next hearing, titled Aakjer et al vs. City of Myrtle Beach, attorney Tom McGrath is arguing against the helmet law, as well, but the focus of the discussion with the justices — when they return — is that the city’s municipal court should have no jurisdiction over the helmet ordinance violations because they are civil infractions and the municipal court is for criminal matters only.

Check back for more updates when the justices return.

3:50 p.m.: Justice Costa Pleicones is asking Battle why this isn’t a law that needs to be uniform, and Battle is asking how to weigh the adverse affects of the helmet law on the visitors versus the benefit to the city and to the riders who have to wear the helmets.

“What is the burden on the person wearing the helmet? I think everyone agrees it’s safer for them, just like when you have to strap on a safety belt,” Battle said.

Justice John Kitteridge is asking Battle what happens if people refuse to pay the $100 helmet fines.

Battle is saying the crime is not appearing in court, but Kitteridge says “if it’s civil, I can never be forced to come into court.”

Battle is telling the justices how there are scofflaw rules that are still civil, but can accrue penalties.

3:35 p.m.: Attorney Mike Battle, representing the city, is making his arguments. The justices are arguing that the city cannot make ordinances to chase groups of people away. Battle is saying the city never put up barricades to keep people out.

3:30 p.m.: One justice is asking Viers if he is arguing that travel throughout the state could be impacted by “a morass of little pockets of local law.”

Viers said yes, that is exactly what he’s saying.

Chuef Justice Jean Toal is asking how he distinguishes this case from others in which the high court has upheld local laws such as the smoking bans.

Viers said uniformity is not critical in those cases, but that the Uniform Traffic Act was written for a reason and that traffic laws in are are designed to be uniform.

3:18 p.m.: The justices have arrived and Viers has begun his arguments.

The simplest case against the city’s helmet law is its prohibition under the state’s Uniform Traffic Act, he is telling the court. Any action not authorized in the act is forbidden, he said.

He argues the helmet law is unconstitutional because helmet regulations rest with the state.

He says the legislative intent behind the current state law, which dictates that people younger than 21 wear helmets, was freedom of choice for those older than 21.

3:08 p.m.: The five Supreme Court justices have not arrived to begin the hearings yet.

2:45 p.m. | The parties are gathering in the South Carolina Supreme Court courtroom for the two lawsuits against Myrtle Beach’s motorcycle helmet law.

About two dozen motorcycle rally supporters, the organizers of Business Owners Organized to Support Tourism and media are taking up a portion of the audience benches as the attorneys make last-minute preparations. Attorney Thad Viers, representing his brother, Bart, and BOOST, will be heard first when court convenes at 3 p.m.

He will argue the court should not allow Myrtle Beach to impose a local helmet law.

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