State Board That Fined Man For Criticizing The Government Without A License Admits It Was Wrong

from the but-reserves-option-to-do-it-again-to-someone-else dept

Earlier this year, government entities in Beaverton, Oregon got fed up with a resident's refusal to stop pestering them about problems with their traffic light timing. Mats Jarlstrom, a red light camera ticket recipient and consequential thorn in the side of local pols, tried repeatedly to get state traffic engineers to take a look at his research on yellow light timing. They refused. And they refused in a way only powerful bureaucracies can.

The Oregon Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying told Jarlstrom to shut up by issuing him a $500 fine for practicing engineering without a license. It was, of course, bullshit. Jarlstrom couldn't alter traffic light timing and certainly wasn't sending in bids for government work while presenting himself as an engineer. He just wanted to talk about his research. But the state board wasn't interested in his work or his refusal to stop talking. Despite holding a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, Jarlstrom was told he wasn't enough of an engineer to talk about subjects he'd thoroughly researched.

The Institute for Justice picked up Jarlstrom's case, securing an injunction against the state board earlier this year. We're another step closer to a full resolution in this case, as the state board has finally conceded it trampled all over Jarlstom's rights in its efforts to get him to stop talking.

A state panel violated a Beaverton man's free speech rights by claiming he had unlawfully used the title "engineer'' and by fining him when he repeatedly challenged Oregon's traffic-signal timing before local media and policymakers, Oregon's attorney general has ruled.

Oregon's Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying unconstitutionally applied state law governing engineering practice to Mats Järlström when he exercised his free speech about traffic lights and described himself as an engineer since he was doing so "in a noncommercial'' setting and not soliciting professional business, the state Department of Justice has conceded.

"We have admitted to violating Mr. Järlström's rights,'' said Christina L. Beatty-Walters, senior assistant attorney general, in federal court Monday.

Jarlstrom will get a $500 refund from the state, but perhaps more importantly, an admission of wrongdoing -- a rarity in litigation settlements. Jarlstrom and the Institute for Justice would like to see further changes made in the state's government. They want the court [PDF] to review the laws used to silence Jarlstrom and find them unconstitutional. The state, unsurprisingly, does not. Its settlement offer [PDF] wants awards limited to its admission of wrongdoing and a refund of the fine paid by Jarlstrom. The state would still like to be able to declare who is or isn't an engineer. But it's already been used as a weapon against a critic once. There's nothing in the board's settlement offer that would prevent it from doing it again.


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 7 Dec 2017 @ 8:23am

    Telling objection

    "It was wrong to do this, we shouldn't have done it, and we are very sorry that we did."

    "So you won't have a problem with a ruling explicitly saying you can't do it again, right?"

    "Whoa now, let's not be hasty here! How about we just return your money and call it a day, no need to go totally overboard and waste everyone's time with trifles."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2017 @ 9:44am

    The word "engineer" has many more meanings than just a state-licensed professional engineer, so it seems rather odd that anyone simply calling himself an engineer (without performing or soliciting any kind of work-for-hire) would get into legal trouble over the mere use of the word.

    Unlike the fields of law or medicine, you don't even need P.E. registration to be employed as an engineer in an engineering firm, in fact there's often not much difference in pay between those who have a stamp and those who don't.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      JEDIDIAH, 7 Dec 2017 @ 10:32am

      The old "webster" defense.

      Don't be coy. There is a considerable difference between those that are licensed and those that are not. Being licensed allows a firm to do business. It also means that someone will be personally responsible for the work.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2017 @ 12:32pm

      Re:

      The word "engineer" has many more meanings than just a state-licensed professional engineer

      Kind of like the word "doctor" can also mean one who fixes or repairs things, or cleans carpets.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ralph_the_bus_driver (profile), 11 Dec 2017 @ 6:47pm

        Re: Re:

        .... or has a degree that confers "Doctor" on the degree. Such as Chiropractor, Optometrist, Podiatrist, and Dentist. Then there are guys like my brother that studied History for 8 years, wrote a few books and earned a PhD.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      David (profile), 7 Dec 2017 @ 4:27pm

      Re: Welcome to Oregon

      These same clowns wanted to license SW Engineers.

      Thankfully they never could agree on a solution as they wanted a math heavy test while including everyone that might even be considered a SWE. Of course, SWE are not schooled that extensively in math although that is somewhat dependent on their school. At that time (mid 70's) many CS degrees were tied to Math Dept. while others had it tied to Electrical Engineer/Electronics.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2017 @ 9:48am

    Illegal math - sheeesh.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2017 @ 9:52am

    The state board admitted nothing.
    The state's AG did.
    The state board conceded nothing.
    The state's AG did.
    The state board isn't trying to settle the case with a $500 check.
    The state's AG is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 7 Dec 2017 @ 5:30pm

      Re:

      The state's AG is also the individual in charge of deciding whether the board members need to spend time in court facing prison time for violating rights. A conspiracy to do that is a felony, after all.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ralph_the_bus_driver (profile), 11 Dec 2017 @ 7:01pm

        Re: Re:

        The State AG represents all State government employees, agencies, and boards in court.

        The Board members are protected with personal immunity. The State violated his civil rights, they didn't. While some conspiracies can be a felony, believe it or not, this Board is within its rights to do what they did. They may be wrong as heck, but they were within their right to decide who is an engineer.

        The AG is trying to get off with just a return of the fine. That won't fly as the Board did violate his rights. He did expend a fair bit fighting the fine and suing for the violation of his rights.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2017 @ 10:14am

    would still like to be able to declare who is or isn't an engineer

    i find that very amusing. i had a ~20-year career functioning mostly as a contract design engineer in aerospace though my degree was in english and was clearly so stated on my resume.

    that sometimes caused me headaches finding work and several cohorts advised me to lie on my resume, but my mom and dad didn't raise me to be a liar, so i stuck with the truth. it turned out that most engineering managers could care less where i learned to do the work, and since i always lusted for the most difficult assignments, they were only so happy to oblige me provided i found a way to produce efficient, effective, and economical designs in a reasonably timely manner that could pass inspection. once at a major aircraft firm i was told when i turned in a particularly difficult assignment that the degreed design engineer who sat across the aisle from me had previously returned the package with the assessment that it couldn't be done. as i had been moved into that group with the express purpose of resolving that issue, i had no idea the guy across from my workstation had turned down the assignment. of course, i was glad i didn't know.

    i say all this to ask this question: was i a design engineer, oregon? i applied for design engineer assignments and worked right alongside degreed engineers doing exactly what they were doing (though i may have relied more heavily on analysts' opinions). although i had no degree whatever in engineering and very few classroom hours i have lots of design work in the air right now both military and commercial. airlines, business jets, fixed wing and rotary wing. most oregon people have flown in planes i touched and surely the very people hounding this man and pounding their bureaucratic chests.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      TRX, 7 Dec 2017 @ 2:13pm

      Re:

      > my degree was in english

      How about that capitalization, eh?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2017 @ 2:19pm

        Re: Re:

        new to the internet, are you?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2017 @ 2:28pm

        Re: Re:

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        christenson, 7 Dec 2017 @ 3:36pm

        e e cummings

        You must not have read e e cummings, or about still, small voices.

        Proper engineering is more about attitude and learning more than it is whether you fully absorbed your undergrad curriculum and got the PE gold star. Kind of like libel, when facts and sources are presented, it really doesn't matter who developed them, reality is there for all to see.

        You might want to look up "Galloping Gurdy", the Tacoma Narrows bridge that fell into the Tacoma Narrows. That was designed by PEs!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2017 @ 4:08pm

          Re: e e cummings

          i'm in the dark re: still, small voices, but i'll take a gander in a bit.

          totally agree with your comment about attitude and, i would say, experience. by attitude, i mean the willingness to get it done and the freedom from fear to go where you know nothing but have the faith in yourself to assume you'll figure something out. that's nice tall talk, of course, but the real story here is all the people who help each other in that business. or at least the way the business was when i first got involved. i largely learned to design from talking with people who knew how to do it and had the decency and goodness about them to help whoever needs it. later in my time there i tried to repay those good people by being the way they were with the pups coming up.

          in contracting the story goes that ten years of experience can be ten years of experience or it can be one year of experience ten times. i found that always gravitating to the stuff most designers don't want to do -- lofting, say, as an example -- can give you a very valuable tool set.

          i recall the tacoma narrows bridge from my time in seattle. even had i not known of the prior failure that bridge would have put starch in my bloomers. the new york bridges never gave me the willies that gertie handed out with glee.

          your point about the bridge having been designed by professional engineers is a good one. i have to wonder, though, if there weren't appearance decisions made and forced onto the design staff. had they been half as cautious as fowler and baker who did the forth bridge in scotland, the original gertie would still be there.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Bergman (profile), 7 Dec 2017 @ 5:34pm

            Re: Re: e e cummings

            You gotta love the way high-grade engineers designed a bridge for the second windiest spot in the state, in a state that holds the west coast record for windiest spot, without taking the effects of wind on the bridge into account in any way.

            Makes my screw-ups in life look MUCH more reasonable!

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2017 @ 5:53pm

              Re: Re: Re: e e cummings

              i've seen it said that there was an emphasis on sleek appearance, and that drove the inadequate beam depth. (may be the wrong term. i don't know bridge design. in a wing i would be talking spars.) anyway, that sort of emphasis sounds political to me.

              the forth bridge is a good comp. the concern for the storms the north sea can spin up and fling at scotland is similar to the issues at tacoma narrows. that the scots overbuilt is why that rail bridge is still in service a century and a quarter later.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2017 @ 5:35am

              Re: Re: Re: e e cummings

              without taking the effects of wind on the bridge into account in any way.

              Of course they accounted for wind loads. What they did not expect was resonance. That is now a standard part of a design.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2017 @ 6:53am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: e e cummings

                indeed. much like the failure of otherwise well-built buildings in the devastating earthquake that hit mexico city in the mid '80s. i've seen it said that the bridge in high wind from a certain range of directions behaved much like when you blow across a taut rubber band. the aggressive design for appearance was perfectly adequate except for resonance.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  ralph_the_bus_driver (profile), 11 Dec 2017 @ 7:28pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: e e cummings

                  They took a previous design and adapted it to to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Then they made a few alterations. The original bridge was four lanes with a strengthening divider down the center of the roadway. On the original bridge the railings were more solid whereas they were open on the TNB.

                  The bridge was expected to move in the wind. As said above, they just didn't take into account the degree of resonance. But that was mostly because it had never happened like this before. But then it happens in most long bridges. Most suspension bridges are self dampening so people don't realize it there is some resonance.

                  Was the TNB poor engineering? Nope, it just succumbed to the weather. But lesson learned and no bridge has done that since. They learned a lot from the Challenger blowing up. The aircraft tragedy that gave the most lesson in design? The DH Comet, first commercial jet, kept falling out of the sky in the early 1950s. They soon learned not to have square windows or square joints as that only sets up fatigue points.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 7 Dec 2017 @ 10:30am

    Not enough zeros in the settlement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2017 @ 10:31am

    Not sure why by this is a techdirt story. What's the intersection with tech here?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      JEDIDIAH, 7 Dec 2017 @ 10:33am

      Re:

      The headline is also intentionally misleading.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 7 Dec 2017 @ 11:02am

      "Wait a second, this story isn't about a fox. This story isn't about ANY foxes!"

      Out of curiosity, do you also question why Fox covers stories don't involve actual foxes, or why Ford offers products that aren't shallow sections of rivers?

      The state attempted to silence someone from criticizing them via claiming that the one doing so wasn't a real engineer, and therefore weren't allowed to call themselves one when they called into question something the state had in place(red light cameras).

      Abuse of the law in order to silence critics is right up TD's alley and is covered on a regular basis, so I can only assume that you're new here(in which case welcome), you are a regular who doesn't actually read the stories(in which case there's your problem), or you didn't actually want to read the article, were forced to anyway, and wanted to vent about it(in which case blame the magic coding, and may TD never weaponize such a fiendish bit of technology).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Zgaidin (profile), 7 Dec 2017 @ 1:04pm

      Re:

      Too lazy to go back and check, but I believe the original story was about traffic-cams that issued automated tickets for running a red light, and Mr. Jarlstrom's research indicated that the yellow light timing on intersections with these devices was much shorter than those without.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      trollificus (profile), 8 Dec 2017 @ 9:44am

      Re:

      Yeah, I think TechDirts' admirable interactions with the Copyright and Patent aspects of governmental overreach puts other aspects of said overreach right in their wheelhouse and a) they generally do a good analysis and b) the stories are interesting to TechDirt readers.

      Or are you imposing some other criteria for which stories are "appropriate". BTW, I also notice this story doesn't have any intersection with 'dirt'.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous PE, 7 Dec 2017 @ 12:50pm

    Shut up or else!

    As a licensed Professional Engineer I am the victim of a defamation lawsuit threat and a complaint to the state Board of Engineers to get me to shut up after I criticized the engineering work on a public works project.

    I am hoping to be able to tell my story soon and hope that Techdirt is interested.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 7 Dec 2017 @ 1:15pm

      Re: Shut up or else!

      Bottom of the page, under the 'Contact' category, 'Submit a Story'. If they are going to cover it that would be your best bet to make them aware of it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John R. Ellis (profile), 7 Dec 2017 @ 2:42pm

    The Board has repeatedly harassed people

    "The state would still like to be able to declare who is or isn't an engineer. But it's already been used as a weapon against a critic once."

    The board has used it as a weapon a number of times in the past, including against a Portland City Commissioner, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, a local activist, and Portland Monthly magazine.

    http://reason.com/blog/2017/12/07/licensing-board-admits-they-cant-silence

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2017 @ 10:18pm

    The government admitting that people should be allowed to freely criticize figures of authority? Uh oh. MyNameHere's really not going to like this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Oliver, 7 Dec 2017 @ 10:55pm

    REFUND?

    He is getting a refund of $500?
    That state board gets away with it, really?
    They should get to pay a YUUUUUUUUUUUUUUge punitive damage payment to that non-engineer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Show Now: Takedown
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.