Monday, January 28, 2008

No Justice . . .

This post is here especially for a friend who is amazed by (read: ridicules) my habit of writing passionate letters over relatively trivial things (ps she's also the friend who is always looking for one more reason not to excercise -- here it is):

Dear Mr. Mayor,

Can we put a price on justice? This morning my son Little Bun, six, had his first experience with injustice, and all for just forty-five dollars. Despite what seems like a low cost at first, it was a costly lesson, and I am angry over the role the Bloomsburg Parking Authority and my city played in its teaching.

Two Tuesdays ago, my husband and I parked our car to exercise for his twenty-five minute lunch break. We parked to one side of a pole: Ahead of the pole, Official Vehicles Only. Behind it, Two Hour Parking. We parked behind it.

Still, when we returned to our car and pulled away, we noticed a ticket flapping in the winter wind. We had received a forty-five dollar ticket, indicating that we had parked in an Official Vehicles Only posted area. We were of course surprised – it had to have been a mistake. We had both read the sign when we chose the spot and not the open one behind it. We returned to take the included pictures.

I scheduled a hearing, sure that the Parking Authority judge would realize a mistake had been made (Having never before received a parking ticket, I was not yet aware that the Authority had been outsourced). My husband calculated the loss of work time and the necessary daycare time along with parking downtown at a cost far exceeding the ticket, but I wanted to do what was right.

Our hearing was scheduled for this morning, while my son Little Bun was on a two-day break from Bloomsburg City Schools. He would come with us, then. This would be fine, I thought, as he would see that if you exercise your rights, and you are in the right, all will be made right. But my son saw just the opposite.

When Judge B called my husband, my husband was surprised that the accuser wasn’t present. “It’s been decriminalized,” we were later told (but we still had not been told that it had been outsourced), so we did not have the rights attendant to a criminal hearing. With no evidence or testimony but the ticket, Judge B was confident of his ruling before my husband spoke. He declared that “she [the officer] would not have written the ticket if [we] hadn’t been parked there.” My husband said that he disagreed, that there had been a mistake, that we had pictures of the spot and signage. Judge B dismissed the pictures and my husband’s testimony, repeating that “She would not have written the ticket if [we] hadn’t been parked there.” My husband replied that he would not have taken time off from his work and come to a hearing if we had parked illegally. Judge B repeated his assertion again, and indicated that an appeal was possible.

With my son there, surprised that he was about to learn the very opposite of the lesson we thought he’d learn, we were going to appeal. Then we learned this – if we were to lose an appeal, it would cost us an additional $38 for having appealed (I have since read that as early as 2006 that the city was aware that the high cost of appeal would likely deter appellants). That appeal, to the same authority which made the initial ruling, designed with an economic interest in revenue superseding an interest in fair ruling, would be a final appeal. There would still be no accuser, and no guarantee that a judge would consider the evidence. The Parking Authority doesn’t even appear to be under the law. The Bloomsburg paper once published an article with this frightening assertion: “ ‘We're not part of the judicial system,’ said the parking authority's director of administration, who oversees the court. ‘We're our own little island.’” There should be no “little islands” when it comes to the rule of law in Bloomsburg!

We made the pragmatic decision not to appeal, which I very much regret. I have shared this regret with my son, and so together we decided to write a letter to you. (I am reading him this letter now as I write it).

I regret this decision because it reinforces a Parking Authority abuse of authority and am disappointed in our choice not to appeal. It accepts circular logic that one would not be charged if one were not guilty, and therefore the charge was evidence of guilt which strikes me as particularly unjust. It supports a system that makes it too expensive in time and money for people to pursue their rights within that system, which strikes me as near-corrupt.

I am disappointed, too, in the Parking Authority’s waste of our work time, family time and daycare time for only the illusion of due process: We could have easily been told that Judge B would not hear our case and his decision would not be based on its merits over the phone when we scheduled the hearing. My husband could have remained with his patients and I could have remained at home with my children.

I will be even more disappointed in the City of Bloomsburg if we are to allow this to continue to happen without consequence. Surely much more important things happen each day in the City of Bloomsburg and at first, it would seem, in our lives.

But there is this: each time we accept an injustice or impropriety it costs us more than a fine.

I do hope you will look into the situation. If not, what will I tell my son about right and his rights, all of our rights and the rule of law in Bloomsburg?

Abebech (together with Little Bun)

PS I got a summons for jury duty. For Spring Break.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm I'm not sure, but I think I might be the friend in question? I don't think I ridicule your protest letters. rather, I admire you for it since, of course, I would never bother to do such a thing. (I would only think about it.)
Anyway, it all sounds worthy of protest. Serious protest. And some righteous anger. Would you consider writing a letter to the editor?

abebech said...

I think you probably are! ;)
I cc'd just about everybody in town. I'm afraid I will now be famous for ranting (there was one of THOSE in my town growing up -- this must be how they start).

J. Pannell said...

My MIL is famous for her letters of just this sort. She's boycotted half the businesses in town for one injustice or another. I don't mean to demean her efforts or yours. I'm one of the many who say, "oh, well." Shame on me.

abebech said...

If I didn't find it mildly entertaining, I probably would just say "oh well" too. I have a weird sense of humor.