Sunday, September 11, 2011

All Time Worst Tickets #3 Parking Violations Bureau – Corrupt or Incompetent? (golden oldies)

This 2nd to last contestant for best worst parking ticket changed the way I think about tickets forever. It woke me to a higher reality, a reality where truth is relative and right and wrong are the sole property of a few underemployed attorneys who go by the name of Administrative Law Judge. One night I parked my car in the same spot described in the last post (broken into and moved back a space). Hey, it’s right in front of my building and we all know that lightning never strikes twice in the same place.
The next day I notice it has a ticket on it for parking in a school zone. Only I clearly am in front of the school parking sign and, what’s more, I have been parking in the same spot for years and have never had a ticket. I contest the ticket and I get a letter back from the Parking Violations Bureau (PVB) saying that my issue is not one for the PVB court system, it is “a job for the Sign Verification Bureau” and, for a moment, I do even hear that TV voice announcer baritone above the soaring in of Underdog, or Superman, or my third grade teacher, Mrs. Rigazzi. They explain that the Sign Verification Bureau will send out an officer to verify the sign is as I say and then my ticket will be dismissed. This sounds so great, so rational and reasonable, that I immediately send in the information and forget about it.
One day I get a letter from the Sign Verification Bureau. It says “GUILTY.” I can’t believe what I am reading and, what’s more, I am confused on two fronts. First, the space was legal. I have parked there before and since and not had a ticket. Second, I thought I wasn’t going through the PVB court system, but now, all of a sudden, I am pronounced GUILTY as if I had my day in court, and the judge was on crack! Now, my only recourse is to “Appeal” which means I have to pay a fee and submit my case to a panel of 3 appeals judges (so called) who, after several months will tell me if I have to pay this ridiculous ticket.
As annoying as it is, I decide I have to Appeal. I know it’s not like the Innocence Project cases where a guy does hard time for 15 years and then is proven innocent, but I can’t stand the idea of paying a fine for a faulty ticket, a bad ticket that for very questionable reasons was given the seal of approval by the Sign Verification Bureau. We can’t just let the city run amok and send out any uniformed henchman they please to rob us honest citizens of our hard earned money!
And what exactly was the Sign Verification Bureau doing finding that the space was illegal? How could they have? It’s not like the arrow is unclear. It clearly points East. I was parked West of the sign and the street number on the ticket is generously located West of the sign. It is unlikely a trained PVB officer could have gone there and seen anything other than the truth, but two trained PVB officers from two different branches? There was just no way. Then, I saw it all clearly: no one ever came out and looked at the sign. They only claimed they did. Maybe they used the same database I used to create our parking map, but that database is not linked to street numbers, so there would have been no way to tell from the database alone if that particular 10 feet of prime NY curb space was legal parking. Someone lied. But then I thought maybe their Sign Verification Bureau officer is just really dense. Not a liar. Maybe they hire their Sign Verification Bureau officers as part of some kind of affirmative action for the lazy and stupid.
Corrupt or incompetent, my course was clear. I wrote an Appeal. This time I was actually allowed to present a case and took photographs of the signs, and, as my forensic essay of the crime scene grew, I realized I could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the space in front of that street number and next to that school was legal at the time of my ticket. Orbiting that signpost as if it was the Sun and I the Earth, I took a circular progression of photographs and each one kept the signpost with the School Parking Sign pointing East and the Alternate Side restriction pointing West in the frame. Starting with the North view of the Parking Signs in front of a playground sign with the name of the school, I continued around the Parking Signs until the street number on the ticket was clearly visible on the side of the Alternate Side Parking only restriction. Well in front of the School Parking restriction sign. I nailed it! Thanks to that playground sign with the name of the school I had unmistakably proved that this space was legal and that it was the space described on the ticket!
I knew I was going to win the Appeal, but the whole episode had such a bad taste, I decided to make a point. So, I wrote a careful description of the events and how “even today” New Yorkers park in that space without getting a ticket. I explained how the "27 3 x 5 color prints with an explanation on the back of each one” proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was a legal parking space. Then I added a little something that probably still rankles those judges to this day:
“proving yet again that the PVB is either incompetent or corrupt.”
My feeling was these judges, being arbiters of truth and justice, would have to find me Not Guilty and thus sanction into the legal record my very deserving insult of the Sign Verification Bureau and the PVB. Their only alternative was to decide against their own honest certainty and in so doing violate their sacred oaths and their own consciences. I couldn’t wait for the outcome.
It was unanimous. All three found me GUILTY! Really? I mean not one of the three had enough integrity or conscience to find in my favor? The explanation given was a not so subtle hint, “Argument not persuasive,” telling me right there that right or wrong don’t matter if my tone is not pleading enough.
I don’t know what’s become of the very sketchy Sign Verification Bureau. I have never heard of them again, nor did I want to. I do know that that was the day I decided to contest every parking ticket I ever had or would have, whether or not I was innocent or guilty. Guilt or innocence didn’t count when their sensitive egos were on the line, so why should they count for me when my hard earned money is being taken from me at their egotistical whim. And it’s been a good system more or less. Sometimes a technicality or the caprice of a judge would determine that I win in a case where I was clearly deserving of the ticket. Others, I would lose when the ticket was obviously bad, probably because my argument was not persuasive. I suspect most of you have reached the same conclusion about your tickets or tows. The hell with right or wrong, the PVB and us have found a way to co-exist. On their terms, of course.
As for whether this is the worst of the three tickets... only you can decide.

Still looking for a copy of that decision and when I find it I will publish these judges’ names, so we can all marvel at how far their careers have come in the last 20 years.