Yesterday I went to appeal a parking ticket. I had not received my tags from the DC government and was ticketed because they were out of date. The DC police are notorious for ticketing marginal cases - I can't count the number of times I've gotten tickets at broken meters or tree-concealed No Parking signs. I work for myself so it costs me money when I go to appeal ; usually I just pay. THIS however was a $100 ticket so there was no alternative.
I was pretty sure they would blow me off. I had an Internet receipt indicating timely payment of the fees but was afraid that wouldn't matter -- after all the adjudicating official probably makes a third of what I make even consulting and I've experienced class-like responses in the past. But Ms. Cindy and her snotty preconceptions were foiled, quite wonderfully.
At the desk in the hearing room was Mr. Carter, an African American gentleman with half-glasses, beard, white shirt, tie and a jacket and beret on the coat hook. There were about ten of us sitting around the edges of the small room, in the center of which was a table perpendicular to Mr. Carter's desk. On his desk: a computer, our pile of appeal documents and a printer. One by one he called us to the chair at the far end of the table. One by one we told our stories. "Guilty with an explanation -- the tree hid the no parking sign --- I am a transit cop and even though I showed my badge they ticketed me --- I drive a construction truck and the lane was marked "construction vehicles only" so the no parking sign did not apply -- etc." Each time Mr. Carter read and re-read the ticket - reading the information aloud -- then asked for corroborating evidence. Most of us had documents or photos proving our case. One by one he dismissed the tickets - ONE of which he didn't even rule on because the dates were wrong and therefore the "ticket is defective." Then he called me.
As I sat down he took off his glasses and wiped them on his tie. No good. Held them up to the light. Rolled his chair over to a file cabinet, opened a drawer, opened a zipper case in that drawer, pulled out some eyeglass cleaner, cleaned his glasses, put the cleaner back in the case, put the case back in the drawer, shut the drawer and rolled back to his desk. I though "Oh boy - he's feeling orderly - he's going to tell me it's my fault and I should have gone to pick them up if they hadn't mailed them in time." He asked for my plea. "Guilty with an explanation." He asked for the explanation - that the tags never arrived. He asked for my evidence. I walked over and gave him the receipt from the date of online payment - well before expiration date.
He read everything carefully -- went into his computer. "Damn," I thought, "he's going to see all those photo speeding (2-5 miles over the limit - for the record) tickets and damn me to ticket hell." Nope.
He looked up. "You did what you were supposed to do. We're not going to punish you because the government didn't do what IT was supposed to do. Ticket dismissed." He signed the release and handed it to me. That was it. Done.
NOW. I'm not telling this story because this examiner was so perceptive about my sweet law-abiding self. I sat there during the entire proceeding - with people of varying degrees of education, articulateness, race, dressed-upness and other differences -- all free to appeal the actions of their government. For some reason this small proceeding reminded me in a very tangible way what I love about this country even in the midst of its terrible mistakes and what I see as a wrong-headed and disastrous domestic direction: The right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. [The end of the First Amendment.] Whatever has (in my view) been violated in the past six years, we have that right and most of us take it for granted. For today anyway - thanks to Mr. Carter and the DC Department of Motor Vehicles - that "most of us" does not include me.