Seattle Municipal Court is a joke
The day after Christmas, I tweeted a picture of a parking ticket I got, along with the parking receipt I was paying for at the same time. Obviously I found this kind of ridiculous and didn’t want to pay it. I tweeted the picture to @SeattlePD who responded and said I should contest it.
I knew that the time it would take would not be worth the $44 I’d save by avoiding the fine. But the principle of the thing drove me nuts. So what did I do? I responded "Not Guilty" and then when I received the hearing date, I mailed back the "contest by mail" form.
Sadly I didn’t keep a copy of the letter I wrote on the form. Here’s a recreation from memory:
On December 26th at around 10:15AM, I parked my vehicle on Wall St. between 5th and 4th avenues. I paid for a little over an hour of parking and place the receipt sticker on the inside of the curbside window as prescribed. As the hour passed, my plans changed and I decided to stay in the neighborhood for lunch. I returned to my car as the parking receipt was expiring to purchase another, as the meter said "4 hours max" and I’d thus far only paid for an hour.
Unfortunately, the same parking meter I had used an hour earlier no longer seemed to be working. It would spend a couple of minutes connecting, and then display an error along the lines of "could not contact bank for approval." After a few tries, I decided to walk to another meter on the same block and try paying there. As I walked I used my phone to confirm on the SDOT website that this was the correct thing to do when a meter was not working properly. The second machine seemed to take longer than usual to authorize the charge, but it did work. New receipt in hand, I started walking back to my car.
As I was walking I noticed a parking officer was standing on a Segway next to my vehicle. After a second I realized there was already a piece of paper on my windshield. I shouted, "Excuse me!" and started jogging toward him, but he apparently didn’t hear me and started riding away toward 5th avenue and around the corner heading north. I ran up the block past my car to the corner, hoping he’d slow or stop to look at cars on that street and I could catch him. But by the time I got around the corner, he was gone.
I returned to my car and placed the new parking receipt next to the original one in the window. I went into the coffee shop I’d been in and wrote a note that said: "You gave me a ticket while I was paying!!!" and left it conspicuously placed on the same window. When I returned from lunch, the ticket and my note were still there.
As you can see from the enclosed parking receipts, I had paid for A) the hour just prior to the ticket, and B) and additional hour beginning at the time the ticket was issued. I believe the digits to the right of the amount paid indicates the meter from which the receipt was printed (W047 versus W049). If you look these up, you’ll find that they are indeed from different meters on this same block.
I do not believe I committed the alleged violation, as I was clearly making an earnest effort to pay for the parking spot (and did indeed pay for it!). Thank you for your time and consideration.
Pretty reasonable, right? I expected that my detailed description of what happened, along with the inclusion of both parking receipts, would make this a pretty simple case to dismiss. At worst, I feared that they would cite some technicality, or maybe challenge my recount of events.
But no. Instead, after two weeks, I finally received the magistrate’s reply:
Here’s what the comment section says:
If a pay station malfunctions and you are unable to obtain a payment receipt at a particular pay station, you may use any other pay station. If you are still unable to obtain a payment receipt, you must move your vehicle. Failure to properly display a payment receipt in a pay-to-park block is a violation, regardless of the reason.
I was appalled. This "magistrate" obviously didn’t even read what I wrote. Worse, the other page of this letter says that I cannot appeal or in any other way ask for accountability regarding this decision. Remember, I included the parking receipts with my letter on their form. I did use a different machine, and I did display the parking receipt. This parking receipt:
(I thought I’d also taken a picture of the first receipt, but apparently did not)
Their response includes absolutely nothing to indicate who this "magistrate" was, or how to report their utter failure to do their job. Presumably, they don’t want such reports. They just want my money, whether the law actually says they should have it or not.
$44 is nothing. I’ve paid that for legitimate parking tickets in the past without complaint (other than grumbling to myself about how high the fines are these days). While I’d prefer the parking officer have given sufficient time after the initial receipt expired, or have looked at the other meters on the block to see if someone was paying at one, I can’t really fault him. He was doing his job, and I was the victim of unfortunate timing.
This "magistrate" however, should be fired. Or at least reprimanded. You can’t be in a position of judicial power and make a judgment based on skimming a defendant’s carefully written testimony. You can’t blatantly disregard material evidence. You can’t copy and paste a boilerplate response which is clearly not applicable to my situation. And then tell me I have no recourse.
Am I overreacting? Probably. But this is my blog so what good is it if I can’t vent when I’m annoyed? And what happens if and when this person is given judicial power over more important matters? Will they continue to be just as careless?
Anyway, that’s my rant. If you happen to know someone in the Seattle Municipal Court system, or on the parking enforcement side of things, who wants to try and make this right, send them my way. Otherwise, I guess I’ll be sending in my $44 tip on $4 of parking.