Biker Rights Advocate Richard Quigley Has Passed Away, But He Must Remain Our Inspiration.
“M-A-D-D Ray” Henke
This is the third in a series of articles about Richard Quigley, "American Biker Folk Hero."
Marlon Brando in the Wild One, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider; they played the roles that came to define us in the eyes of the American public. These are, in the eyes of many, our American biker anti-heroes.
Richard Quigley, Quig to his friends, didn't play a film role. He was our real-thing American biker folk hero.
Quig passed away in September 2007 of leukemia, but he worked tirelessly right through to his last breath, as he had for the past 17 years, urging non-violent civil disobedience and constitutional court challenge as the means to regain biker dignity and throw off the shackles of paternalistic government oppression.
Quig is perhaps best known for obtaining the California Superior Court decision that the California motorcycle helmet law is unconstitutionally vague as applied. Quig obtained the verdict by wearing his trademark BOLT baseball cap helmet with the letters DOT embroidered on the back, obtaining the last 9 of 40 illegal CHP and police helmet tickets. The helmet law citations were patently illegal because they were written in violation of the restrictive constitutional interpretation of the California helmet law which Quig and his friend, truck driver Steve Bianco, obtained shortly after the helmet law was enacted. This case did not void the helmet law only because the cowardly California Attorney General strategically declined to appeal it, less concerned with his oath to uphold the California and United States Constitutions than to preserve the CHP's ability to continue illegally to enforce the law.
Quig had two California helmet cases in the works as his last days approached, one in the appellate court to clarify that helmet tickets are "fix it" tickets, and the second case to obtain a declaration from the Court that the CHP was illegally enforcing the law, and for an injunction ordering the CHP to cease and desist its illegal enforcement practices. For a more complete discussion of Quig's cases, making plain their constitutional sense from the legal perspective, you may consider "Constitutional Law, The California Motorcycle Helmet Lawyers Perspective." But, returning to this great man, Richard Quigley, I know that he worked right through to his last breath on these cases, fighting for the freedom and dignity of all California bikers, because I spoke with him just about every day of the last year and a half of his life on this earth as he managed the legal strategy in his two last cases brought to bring down the California helmet law. On his request, I also wrote an Amicus Brief, a "friend of the court" brief, in the fix-it ticket litigation, and worked with him on the strategy in both cases literally right up to the day before he died, the day he accepted the morphine he'd put off up until then to keep his head clear while he pressed this litigation. By then it was no longer to secure his own freedom, as he'd lain bedridden in excruciating pain for the preceding several months, selling his Harley Davidson, the saddest moment of his life. By then, his work was meant only to secure your dignity and freedom.
I wish you could have known Quig. Imagine ZZ Top. Quig would have made three. But Quig was a real street fighter when it came to the use of his voice. He had a gruff, gravely voice with which he had long intimidated the California Highway Patrol and police up in Santa Cruz County, California. So you can get your geographic bearings, Santa Cruz is just spitting distance from Hollister, which was where the Booze Fighters were loosely depicted in the newspapers of the time, and then, in the Wild One, as having taken over the town in a drunken brawl.
I looked up the definition of "folk hero" to make sure I would use it correctly, and Quig falls squarely within the definition:
"A folk hero is type of hero, real or in mythology, who is loathed by the rich and powerful but idolized by the common person, often stealing from the former to make life better for the latter. The folk hero generally starts off as a regular person, but is transformed into someone extraordinary by their rebellion against oppression upon their own lives."
Quig was a child prodigy, a concert pianist, but his was not a happy childhood. It is important, in order to understand Quig well, to know that the seeds of his rebellion were planted early. At six years of age he ran away from home for the first time, with his dog, and his gun, a 22 rifle. He made it 300 miles, from his home in Morenci Arizona to Silver City, New Mexico. The resourceful kid thought he had a job cleaning rooms in a small motel, but he found he'd been mislead by the motel owners when his parents came to retrieve him.
Later in life Quig worked every kind of straight job from bartender and car salesman to corporate marketing executive. As with the folk heroes described in the above definition Quig had his defining moment when he was harassed one day by a Santa Cruz policeman. He was pulled over in his van, got out and walked to the back of the van, the policemen ordered him to get his registration and pushed him up toward the door. Quig reached over his 45 Magnum and grabbed the registration. The harassment continued and Quig realized at that moment that we were all vulnerable to bad cops. He took a stand with the police department. Internal affairs did an investigation, but upon the officer's denials, took no action. Quig sued the officer in Superior Court, and won a judgment against the County, for one dollar. It was a victory of principle.
That was the beginning, and Quig never let up, right through to his death. He got the Sheriff removed from office, the conclusion of a toe to toe battle over police harassment, and a $45,000 1st Amendment judgment against the City after the Sheriff threatened a radio station for one of Quig's "commentaries" on his weekly radio show..
Quig's work opposing helmet legislation began simply with his refusal to wear a helmet, evolving with the law to lead him to test the CHP and police, and at the same time testing whether the helmet law was capable of being constitutionally enforced, by his use of the "Bikers of Lesser Tolerance," DOT-labeled baseball cap helmet. He fought some 40 helmet cases over the past 16 years in the trial and appellate courts leading up to the most recent ones which came to the attention of the biker community only on the eve of Quig's death. There is a wonderful story attached to each one, representing the evolution of his tactics in defeating the helmet law prosecutions, changing the law, rendering the law unenforceable, except as the CHP and local police now enforce it illegally, the basis first for a federal injunction against the CHP and now the determination by the Santa Cruz court that the law is unconstitutionally vague "as applied" by the CHP.
For 15 years Quig would argue with police by the side of the road about the words and meaning of the California helmet law, his tape recorder in hand, setting the cops up to be torn apart at trial. The California Court of Appeals interpretation of the California helmet law defined the legal requirements both for the rider and the cop, and this was law that Quig and his friend, Steve Bianco created upon their challenge to the helmet law as unconstitutionally vague. He would cross-examine the CHP officer or policeman relentlessly in Court, and then he would argue eloquently in his own sometimes wild way to the Judge about the inherent vagueness in the CHP's helmet law enforcement policies.
He filed briefs with the Court that were written in language that was on the one hand amazingly typical of very good legal brief writing, but as if unable to restrain himself, he would throw in a side remark, or a four letter word, sometimes in parentheses, that one can only imagine brought a roll of the eyes and belly laugh to the Santa Cruz Superior Court Judge who had been hearing his accumulation of helmet law violation prosecutions. His briefs were sprinkled also with appropriate citations to relevant cases, and to the evidence which he had gathered, including, perhaps most significantly, the internal CHP bulletins setting forth what are certainly illegal helmet law enforcement policies, noncompliant with the law he created.
Quig had the CHP backed up into the corner, and it is just a shame that the CHP didn't just lay down and give up during Quig's life, after he obtained the highly reasoned legal decision from the California Superior Court holding that the helmet law was unconstitutionally vague as (illegally) "applied' by California law enforcement.
The California Highway Patrol sets the standards by which traffic laws are enforced by all law enforcement officers in the State of California. Yet in the CHP policy manuals and in Quig's wonderful interrogation of the various CHP officers who had given him helmet citations, he demonstrated that the CHP had been laboring under a number of fundamental misunderstandings which render the law unconstitutional as it is enforced. One example is that the CHP policy manuals instruct law enforcement that it is only "DOT approved helmets" which are legal; but as Quig is quick to point out, there are no DOT approved helmets; the Department of Transportation doesn't "approve" helmets. Manufacturers certify helmets as in compliance with the federal motorcycle helmet performance standard, FMVSS 218. The manufacturers are required to affix the DOT certification to the helmet, but there is no law that requires that the biker must maintain the certification on the helmet. So the absence of the manufacturer's certification of itself cannot form the basis for citation. The CHP policy manual also permits the officers to make judgments about whether the helmets appear from their fabrication to meet the FMVSS 218 specifications, but as Quig points out, that is way beyond the education, training or expertise of a CHP officer. FMVSS 218 is just a description of laboratory procedures and arbitrary impact standards stating nothing about what a helmet should be constructed out of or what it should look like. It requires specific laboratory equipment, trained engineers, and the helmets are destroyed in testing. The California Court of Appeals, in the very first case up, held that it was "absurd" to posit that the law required the biker, or permitted the cop, to consider helmet fabrication in determining whether any particular helmet met FMVSS 218 specifications.
In the Bianco case, taken to the Court of Appeals by Quig and his truck driver friend, Steve Bianco, the Court of Appeals reinterpreted the law to conform to constitutional principles, by holding that if a helmet has a DOT label a "presumption" arises that the helmet meets FMVSS 218 specifications, and that the ONLY way for the cops and prosecutors to rebut the presumption is (1) where the helmet model has been recalled by the manufacturer or determined by NHTSA to be noncompliant with FMVSS 218, AND, (2) where the biker has "actual knowledge" of the recall or determination of non-compliance.
The CHP should have just laid down after this decision. Instead, the CHP just continued to enforce the law illegally, based on their incompetent fabrication analyses. As we explain more fully at ""The California Motorcycle Helmet Lawyers Perspective," this led Quig and Steve Bianco to initiate additional helmet litigation subsequently taken over and funded by Easyriders magazine, leading to the federal district courts extensive decision indicting the CHP for its illegal helmet law enforcement policies, and the United States Court of Appeals decision, based on the 4th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution, issuing the first ever federal injunction against the California Highway Patrol, ordering it to cease and desist issuing helmet tickets to riders whose helmets have the letters DOT on them unless the cop has "probable cause" to believe that the biker "knows" that his headgear was recalled by the manufacturer or determined by NHTSA to be noncompliant with FMVSS 218.
Of course Quig was right, but all too often what is right gets lost in our Court system particularly when to find a man like Quig "right' means rendering toothless a law enacted by our California legislature. But Quig had the wonderful good fortune to find himself before a truly courageous Judge, Michael Barton, who I think both tolerated and admired Quig's quick witted and sometimes outrageous courtroom personality. In August Judge Barton threw out the last 9 helmet citations of a total of around 40 or so that Quig received over his last 16 years; however, this time the Court threw out the tickets on the grounds that the California helmet law, as enforced by the CHP, is unconstitutionally vague.
After the California Attorney General declined to appeal Judge Barton's decision, Quig fashioned another case, this one a civil action against the CHP for declaratory and injunctive relief, based on the same constitutional law and the same evidence that required Judge Barton's decision that the CHP's policy of illegally enforcing the California helmet law had become a matter of intolerable infringement of constitutional rights. Anticipating that the Attorney General would attempt to draw the case out until Quig died, he invited four other BOLT members to join with him in the declaratory relief/injunction case, including Steve Bianco, and Don Blancet, co-founder of BOLT California and currently also the executive director of ABATE California, Red Barron and Mike Osborne. Quig's deposition was taken by videotape for presentation at the trial, so he will be heard, and the evidence of his police oppression presented at the trial which we hope will once and for all vindicate Quig's constitutional arguments and obtain for all us California bikers who have survived Quig, our common, ordinary dignity to make our own safety choices, and our freedom from paternalistic government oppression and police harassment.
Assuming that the Santa Cruz Superior Court shall issues the injunction, at that point the CHP and California Attorney General will be presented with the question whether they will appeal it. If they do, it will go first to our California intermediate appellate court, and then possibly to our Supreme Court. There is a good likelihood that the appellate courts will uphold the injunction, and the reason this is true is that Quig has laid such a good evidentiary record in the lower court with regard to the illegality of the CHP policies in violation of the overriding constitutional law Quig and Bianco previously established in the California Courts of Appeals.
Yeah, Richard Quigley is our real-thing American biker folk hero. I miss him every day. But then whether the larger biker community may realize it in the precisely same way, so do you. We all lost our most aggressive defender of our freedom. And whether you would chose to ride with a helmet or without one, Quig was fighting for you. The government doesn't tell auto drivers to wear helmets, although it would save many more lives each year, nor does the government tell horsemen or skiers to wear helmets. Each are permitted to make their own safety choices, and each would protest just as vehemently if the government would so paternalistically presume to intrude upon their personal decisions. This is about freedom, and it is about our common, ordinary dignity. Richard Quigley fought for the dignity of all bikers not to have our riding dress code dictated by a bunch of auto drivers who happen to hold public office. Whether you care about your freedom to chose, you must care about your dignity as a man. Richard Quigley is our American biker folk hero because he fought for every biker's freedom from paternalistic government oppression and our common dignity.