Victory for Consumers in Philly Parking Wars
A judge last month in Philadelphia ruled that the city’s Parking Authority must meet basic standards of evidence when violators appeal their parking tickets, after decades of robotic appeal rejection. Unfortunately, the city claims the order is impractical and will be ignoring the new rules pending appeal.
The Philadelphia Parking Authority is so celebrated for its hyper-aggressive ticketing policies that there’s a national television show about its ruthless meter maids. People who think they’ve been unfairly ticketed can appeal to the city’s Bureau of Administrative Adjudication, but the act has traditionally been a pointless task, requiring a person to take a day off work, wait in a long line only to have the appeal inevitably rejected, frequently without explanation.
Last month, however, local attorney Jim Pavlock won a victory for consumers when he challenged his rejected appeal in court and won a common-sense injunction against the appeals bureau: From now on, the judge ruled, the ticket issuers must sign tickets and record the exact address where the violation occurs, instead of just the block. The issuer must also show up to be cross-examined if requested by the appellant, and if the appeal is rejected, the adjudicator must explain why in writing.
“[Pavlock] just thought what they were doing was wrong, so he tried to stop them from running roughshod over the rules and procedures,” says Fintan McHugh, a Pennsylvania attorney who is advising Pavlock as well as helping several other clients pursue justice against the PPA.
Right to Cross-Examine
The Authority’s stonewalling is legendary around the city. One of McHugh’s clients brought in pictures of where his car was parked to prove he was not in violation, but the appeal was tossed by the adjudicator regardless. “If you can find someone guilty after that kind of evidence, that’s astounding,” the attorney says. “They still believed the ticket over my client’s live testimony. It’s a pretty hard burden that they expect you to beat. How are you supposed to win?”
Had the new rules been in place, the ticket issuer would have had to attend the appeal at the request of the alleged violator and explain why the ticket was valid. “If you ask the right questions, they might say I have no idea what happened. Or maybe they say something that’s wrong. You should have that opportunity,” McHugh says. ”They’re trying to circumvent the state agency law that requires cross examination for confrontation of witnesses.”
However, the city has decided it will not be following the judge’s orders, claiming rights to an automatic stay. Legally, they may be correct, McHugh says, but the decision is a frustrating one for citizens who value fair play and coherent laws. “I don’t see what they’re angling here. The rules are the rules,” he says. “Just to say I don’t want to live by this order – that’s kind of disingenuous.”
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Consumers who want to fight their tickets in the meantime still have an uphill battle but can take certain steps to help themselves. “Make the request of the hearing, and demand the right the cross-examine the enforcement officer, and obviously prepare for the hearing” McHugh suggests. “Bring whatever evidence you think is necessary.”
Even though the city is ignoring the new rules, an appellant can still bring in a copy of the judge’s order and note that the ticket doesn’t have the exact address, or the issuer’s signature. When appeals are rejected, people do have the opportunity to escalate to the Court of Common Pleas, which was where Pavlock earned the injunction. An attorney can also help the case, if the cost of legal assistance is worth the cost of the ticket being fought, or the appellant really wants to stick it to the Parking Authority on principle.