Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Even Lawyers Get Victimized

Today was one of those days when I just have to laugh or I will cry. I was as frustrated as I have ever been, at least since last week.

I wrote about my frustrations with having my credit card stolen last week. In that case, I was a victim. I did what I could to gather the evidence and then I turned it over to the police in Fort Wayne, where the thieves used my credit card information to defraud merchants and strip me even further of my belief in mankind's inherent goodness. I had to admit I was not in control of the investigation, and I made peace with the fact that nothing will ever come of my many hours on the phone trying to get answers.

Today I had my second go around with civil authorities in another personal situation, where I am a victim again. Back on September 1, the Saturday before Labor Day, I was shocked to receive in the mail a notice from the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles. It said that on Friday, June 27, 2012, my car 4-door Toyota was parked at an expired meter down on 3rd Street Southwest in D.C. The notice said that I had failed to pay the original ticket within 30 days, so it had automatically doubled from $25 to $50.

I immediately pulled out calendars and accessed my blogs and my emails to see what was going on that day. It took only seconds to figure out that I was at my office in Maryland that entire day. Indeed, it was the day before my family and I drove to Kentucky for vacation, so I had taken meticulous notes and answered numerous emails throughout the day. Indeed, at the time that my car was supposedly parked in D.C., at 1:07 p.m., I was at my desk, writing a posting (during lunch hour) for my other blog. I had a telephone conversation with a client within that hour also. And at 2:30 that afternoon we had a staff meeting in my office, so I knew I was there all day. It made no sense to me how this mistake could happen.

I was so baffled that for that night and the next I was unable to sleep as I mulled all of it over in my head. I wanted answers. I wanted to know how the officer made a mistake. I even questioned whether I was forgetting a trip downtown -- an impossibility since I never drive in the District other than my set path across northwest D.C. to get to my office. But that route is miles from the location where the notation placed me on that Friday afternoon.

So on Labor Day, I convinced my husband to drive me downtown to the location where the notice said my car was parked -- the 400 block of 3rd Street Southwest. We Googled the route to get the quickest route and, since it was a holiday, made it down there in 20 minutes.

Google nap showing the 400 block of C Street, SW.

The location was near the Ford office building, which houses offices of members of the House of Representatives. It is close to the U.S. Capitol.

Looking south on C Street. Ford Building is on left, not in picture.
There is no parking without a permit on that section of the east side of the 400 block of 3rd Street outside the Ford Office Building. It is also right across the street from the Federal Center SW Metro Station. So if I had wanted to go to that area of D.C., I would have taken the Metro rail down there rather than driving to that location. Only insane people drive in D.C. on a work day if they do not work down there.

So, not knowing precisely where the meter was, we narrowed it down to a batch of about 10 meters since they were the only ones on the east side of the street. I got out of the van and walked from meter to meter, checking out the numbers clearly plastered to the outside of each meter. Then, I found the one on the citation.It was a pay by phone meter that did not accept coins. No wonder the person who stuck me with the ticket did not put money in. S/he probably did not have an phone-linked account. My husband does, but I do not.

This is the meter that I was supposedly parked at.

Right where this SUV is parked, by the 13'5" sign, is where the cop says I was parked at an expired meter.

Hmmmm. When I saw what is located in this building across the street, I wondered....
When I was Googling the area, the map showed that at 425 Third Street SW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20024 is an organization called Judicial Watch. I have donated to Judicial Watch in recent years, in support of all the wonderful legal work that they do to defend our Constitution and to protect our God-given rights. Could I have driven down there and just not remember it? No. I might me crazy, but I don't forget!

The notice said that you can admit the infraction and pay the ticket, or admit with an explanation, or deny and ask for a hearing. So, over the past three weeks, I have been gathering evidence for my defense. That consisted of preparing affidavits for my boss and a co-worker to sign stating that I was at work that day. I prepared an affidavit for my husband to sign saying he did not drive the car that day. I had some email printouts and copies of my blog postings showing the times that I transacted them. I had several more sleepless nights as I worried about the situation. Last week, of course, I was enveloped by the credit card fraud, so that distracted me for a few days.

Jump forward to this week. Yesterday, I took the day off to help my boss move into a new abode. So when I got to the office this morning and looked at the file on my desk containing the ticket, I thought I had better refresh my recollection on when I had to reply. Wouldn't you know it, TODAY was the 60th day. If I did not go for a walk-in hearing today, I could not contest the ticket. So, I had my co-worker go to the bank with me to get our affidavits notarized. My husband had taken his on the military base on Saturday to get it notarized. Then, after having to wait for my colleague to walk back to the office to get an ID to prove who she is (although she does not need it to vote in this socialist state), I set out to take the Metro down to Judiciary Square Metro. Since I did not have my Smart Card with me -- due to my not knowing I would be taking Metro today, I had to buy a paper ticket. Recently paper ticket prices were increased a dollar each direction from the posted prices. So my round trip cost me $7.40 ($3.70 each direction). Arriving there in a timely manner, I then walked a block to 301 C Street, NW, in D.C.

Now, I will not go into all the details of the rest of the morning and early afternoon. Let's just say that I probably would have paid $25.00 to experience the "reality" of the D.C. Motor Vehicles Adjudication building. After waiting in line to get a ticket, I went to sit in  a huge room with 20 windows with drab-looking faces behind them and flashing boards that were eerily like Penn Station in New York and where a monotone sexless voice called out every few seconds "Now serving F-6-6-0 at window number 20..." "Now serving B-3-4-6 at window number 14..." and so on endlessly. If I had brought something to read, it would have been an impossibility. Luckily it moved pretty fast, and in 10 minutes I was called by number. I eagerly approached the window.

"Go to room 1147," was all the woman said as she took back the paper that the woman at the information desk had just given me. So I made my way through the crowd and out into the hall, looking at door numbers along the antiquated hallway. I found room 1147 and entered. I was the seventh victim contestant challenger respondent, and I took the last available seat in the room, other than the ones reserved for the respondent being heard and the judge hearing officer.

Seconds later a relatively young, slightly round woman entered the room through the same door I had just come through. Her name was Tonia D. (I Googled Ms. D, and learned she is 42 years old. I felt a little bad about my thoughts about her weight when I saw that she is on a website called "Black Girls Run" to try and lose weight. But, it is what it is. She put that out there, so I guess she does not mind. And I am in the same boat!)

She walked up to the desk and, after seating herself behind an over-sized monitor so I could not see her face, her voice pierced the uber-silent room. She launched into an obvious recitation of the boilerplate introduction that she must do 6 or 8 times daily.

Since I was the last to enter the room, I was the last to be heard. Listening to the first six people plead their cases and tell why they denied the charges, I had to laugh silently and shake my head. I know that Ms. D hears a lot of B.S. five days a week, so I had little doubt that I was not likely to escape her wrath. I was right. By the time I went on the record, she was not at all in a forgiving mood. When I told her I had affidavits stating that I was at work that day and that my husband did not drive the car that day, she was not impressed.

"That only shows where you were," she concluded. "It doesn't prove where the vehicle was that day."

I asked, "How can I prove a negative?"

She said "That's up to you. I can only look at what the officer wrote and what you produced as evidence. Someone else could have driven your car."

I said, "So they took my car without my knowledge, hot wired it, drove it downtown, got the ticket, threw it away, brought my car back, and parked it in the same exact spot in the parking garage where I had left it that morning?"

When she did not respond, it became clear that there was nothing I could produce that would satisfy what she was calling for: proof that my car was NOT in D.C. at the parking meter identified on the ticket that day. It made no difference that I can prove my whereabouts or that I testified that no one took my car. I cannot prove that no one took the car.

So I asked her, "Are you saying I am lying?"

She said, "I am saying all you have proved is where you were, not your car."

Here is what she wrote on my Hearing Record. "Respondent's vehicle has been properly identified by make and tag. Respondent's letters does not confirm (sic) the location of the vehicle, just that she was at work on the date the ticket was issued. The government has established that the respondent's Toyota bearing NA (sic) tag X-----8 (redacted) was parked in the 400 block of 3rd Street SW at an expired meter in violation of DC law. Conclusions of Law: Liable."

Excuse my legalese, but that is B.S.

D.C. is notorious for the number of parking tickets it dispenses. Last year in 2011 they issued over $92 million in tickets. That was up $12 million over 2010's total. They issue over 29,000 tickets a week. That is an average of almost 5000 per day, taking into account weekends are less heavily trafficked. After my experience this month, I wonder how many other phantom tickets have been issued. Did the officer really make a mistake? Or did he somehow get my tag number and car make while I was driving through in northwest D.C. and decide that I would make an unsuspecting victim? D.C. is so hard up for money that they have to get it from somewhere. The ROSA laws are another lucrative source, as I saw in the hearing room today also. But that's a whole other scam.

Even 7 years ago Ms. D was there adjudicating D.C. parking tickets. She has probably heard it all. But this time she heard the truth from ME, and she dismissed my sworn testimony. So, I can either appeal her decision or pay the reduce original amount -- $25. At least she did cut out the double fine penalty since she said I did not get the first ticket. I just shook my head. Apparently she believed me when I said I did not get the first ticket, but not that I did not get it because my car was not there. (Wow, a triple negative!)

I have not decided what I will do. I will not be allowed to submit any new evidence at an appeal, so that leaves me with only the affidavits. The ticket is prima facie evidence, and I rebutted it, but, despite what the hearing paper said, the burden of proof is obviously still on me to prove something that cannot be proven.

They count on people not wanting to take off from work to contest these infractions. I can afford  the $25. But if I do decide to pay it and save myself any more hassle, I can promise you I will send along a written note with the check and ask that it be given to the officer, R. Wright, Badge number 00399 in Dept. 15 to tell him/her that they can wreak havoc on people's lives by just a simple transposition of numbers or letters.

And that I will attest to a thousand times over under oath. And I guess I will be satisfied that for $25 I got fodder for my blog.

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