All the talk around the Hall of Justice today was about yesterday’s battle royal, fought to the finish in Judge Jennifer Wilcox’s Division 101 traffic court. Two heavy-weights—local radio and television personality Terry Meiners, and LMPD’s star traffic cop Sam Cromity—fought to the finish over a speeding ticket. Late in the afternoon the jury returned a verdict of “not guilty;” a TKO for Meiners.
The 54-year-old Meiners has been a regular on WHAS-AM with his drive-time radio program, since 1985. Recently, he and Rachel Platt have started co-hosting the new Great Day Live morning show on WHAS-TV. Most folks in Louisville will recognize Meiners from his 25-year involvement with the WHAS Crusade for Children telethon, which he co-hosts with television news anchor Melissa Swan.
Louisville definitely has a love/hate relationship with the sharp-tongued comedian. He has won the “Best Radio Personality” readers’ survey contest sponsored by Louisville Magazine 18 times; and in 2010 the readers of LEO Weekly voted him “Best Local Media Celebrity You Love to Hate;” just ahead of convicted extortionist Karen Sypher.
Officer Sam Cromity, on the other hand, is relatively unknown outside of law enforcement and legal circles, where he has a reputation for writing speeding tickets. Lots of speeding tickets. He is usually at the top of the annual LMPD traffic-ticket list.
Although police officers receive no extra pay for court appearances while on duty, they receive $50 for the first two hours they spend in court during non-working hours and collect overtime pay after that. A 2009 newspaper article  about the excessive cost of police overtime pay mentioned that Cromity logged more than 1,000 hours of court pay between 2004 and 2008, according to police records; earning nearly $50,000 extra pay as a result.
But whether or not the taxpayers are getting their money’s worth out of Sam Cromity remains an open question. A Courier-Journal review  of his 2008 traffic and misdemeanor cases—nearly 3,000 in all—found that even when Cromity appeared in court, the vast majority of his cases either were reduced to lesser charges or dismissed.
And, while it is probably not definitive to quote the complaint of a disgruntled motorist, we note that the web site ratemycop.com  carries the remarks of a one “easycheesy1,” who had this to say about Cromity: “I admit I was in the wrong for speeding. Mr. Cromity is a rude and very impatient officer that shows lack of professionalism. I have never had an officer get so inpatient and curse at me because I had to pull out my registration and insurance. He stomped away from the car as if I was wasting his time to write the ticket. He needs anger management.”
Back on March 18 of this year, Officer Cromity stopped Meyers on the Watterson Expressway, and wrote him a citation for going 75mph in a 55mph zone. Rather than just pay the ticket, Meiners hired local attorney Steven Pence, pleaded innocent, and asked for a jury trial.
Steve Pence is a pretty good defense lawyer. But the prosecutor, Assistant County Attorney Matthew Welch, is no slouch, either. On cross-examination, Welch asked Meiners whether he “called Cromity a liar 15 times,” on his afternoon radio program. Meiners acknowledged he had and that he did it again “two more (times) today.”
If Matt Welch couldn’t get a guilty verdict out of a jury on a simple “20 and over” speeding case, it could only be because of insufficient evidence. At the trial, evidence was presented showing Cromity’s dashboard arrest video revealing that the officer was talking on the phone while pulling Meiners over. With no additional proof of Meiners’ speeding, the case boiled down to a “he said / he said” swearing match, and the jury chose to believe Mr. Meiners.
Let’s face it. Not everyone who testifies in court tells the truth. If folks started telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth all of the time, we wouldn’t need all those judges, juries, or lawyers (perish the thought!); but since the Garden of Eden, we’ve been a pretty duplicitous lot.
So, who to believe? Follow the money.
Certainly, both Sam and Terry have reasons to stretch the truth. But Terry could have simply paid a small fine or gone to traffic school. Back in 1999, Officer Brandon Eggen wrote Terry a speeding ticket for 17-over in Frankfort, and Meiners appeared before Judge O. Reed Rhorer, pled guilty to the charge, and paid a $34 fine (along with court costs of $67.15).
This time, however, Meiners insisted upon his innocence, and hired one of Louisville’s pre-eminent trial attorneys. We don’t know what Mr. Pence charges, but jury trials nowadays involve lawyer fees in the high hundreds to the low thousands of dollars. Why would Terry spend that kind of dough, when he hasn’t had a traffic conviction for 12 years, and has no “points” on his license?
On the other hand, Sam Cromity is a veritable ticket writing machine, and could potentially double his yearly income with overtime and court appearance fees.
Writing in The Courier-Journal , Jason Riley reports that the jury was not out long, and when they returned with a “not guilty” verdict, Meiners went to shake Sam Cromity’s hand, but the cop brushed by him before turning back and telling Meiners that if he was going to call the officer a liar he should do it “to my face.”
Cromity, through his civil lawyer Andrew Horne, has threatened to sue Meiners for defamation. Nobody likes to be called a liar, but the results of yesterday’s jury trial may dampen Cromity’s zeal for litigation somewhat.
Sam’s a hard-working cop, that’s for sure. And he’s surely earned his pension. He would be well advised to investigate his retirement eligibility, before things start getting uglier.
FULL DISCLOSURE: It would be virtually impossible for me to pretend any degree of impartiality concerning the two contenders in this legal battle: I have known both gentlemen for many years. My obvious biases are occasioned by repeated dealings with each of them.
Terry Meiners and I have been friends for at least 30 years. I have appeared on his radio show, and we shared a great friend in the late Henry Sadlo; something of an institution in the local legal community. And, even though Terry shamelessly steals many of my jokes for use on the air (without attribution), I know him to be a man of veracity and integrity. If Terry says he wasn’t speeding, I, for one, am willing to take him at his word.
Back in the day, I used to be on the staff of the Louisville Police Academy, and taught numerous in-service training courses for cops in Louisville and surrounding jurisdictions. Sam Cromity was one of my students. I claim no credit for his law enforcement abilities.
In the past four years, Sam has given me two speeding citations; one on the Watterson, and one on Newburg Road. I was innocent on both occasions, and both cases were dismissed in court.
Sam is without a doubt the hardest working traffic cop on the LMPD, and I will not call him a liar. He is, however—like all of us—occasionally mistaken. Twice that I know of.
Louisville.com's The Arena section features opinions from active participants in the city's politics. Their viewpoints are not those of Louisville.com (a website is an inanimate object and, as such, has no opinions). The official photo of Hon. Jennifer Wilcox was probably not essential to the story, but was gratuitously included for obvious reasons.