Cabbie’s DUIs jeopardize permit

A longtime city cabdriver with a string of drunken driving arrests is battling to retain his right to drive a taxi in The City.

Robert Friedman, who has driven a taxi for 40 years in San Francisco, has drunken driving convictions in 1999 and 2001 in Plumas County, a 2001 conviction in Contra Costa County and a 2006 arrest in Alameda County that hasn’t resulted in a conviction.

The convictions came to light after San Francisco police sent a letter to the Taxicab Commission nearly a year ago, San Francisco Taxicab Commission Executive Director Jordanna Thigpen said.

After an investigation and hearing, taxi commissioners voted Feb. 12 to revoke Friedman’s medallion and permit, finding that he failed to report the three convictions and the resulting license suspensions on annual forms. Friedman did properly disclose a 1995 domestic battery conviction, commissioners found.

Friedman, who went on disability for migraine headaches in 2001 and stopped driving a cab, promptly filed with The City’s Board of Appeals, a quasi-judicial body that hears arguments in decisions involving permits and licenses.

On June 11, Friedman made his case to board members, pointing out that none of his arrests occurred while he was driving his cab. He adamantly denied purposefully withholding information.

Strict qualifications and a test are required for anyone who wants to secure a taxicab medallion. A medallion holder is allowed to put a taxi on the road and can make thousands of dollars leasing cabs to other drivers or leasing medallions to cab companies. Medallion holders are required to drive 800 hours a year.

The Taxicab Commission has a waiting list of approximately 3,500 people who have applied for a medallion. The wait to gain one of the roughly 1,400 medallions in circulation is estimated at 14 years.

While Friedman’s attorney says his client would like to start driving again, Thigpen said she will fight to take the medallion away from Friedman.

“This case has grave public-safety implications,” Thigpen said. “What message does this send to the industry? They’re getting a permit to operate a one-ton glass-and-steel vehicle that could kill people, and we’re telling them a DUI doesn’t matter?”

Board members urged Thigpen and Friedman’s attorney, Geoffrey Rotwein, to come up with a punishment that would satisfy both sides. But Thigpen says anything short of taking Friedman’s cab off the streets is unacceptable.

Thigpen said she blames herself for not explaining the law well enough to the Board of Appeals at the June hearing, but won’t make the same mistake July 23 when the Board of Appeals makes a final decision. Rotwein said he was hopeful his client would be given another chance to drive with proper monitoring.

“The Board of Appeals members pretty much unanimously agreed that it’s just too harsh to take his livelihood away from him when this is the first time this has come up,” Rotwein said. “He’s attending to his problems, and he has so much support in the community.”

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

DUI convictions for Robert Friedman

Date: May 25, 1999 Location: Plumas County

Date: July 27, 2001 Location: Plumas County

Date: Aug. 9, 2001 Location: Contra Costa County

<strong>Blood alcohol level: .20 percent

Sentence: License suspended for three years from Dec. 6, 2001 to Dec. 6, 2004

Sources: Plumas, Contra Costa, Alameda counties

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