Mar 142015

Since I don’t seem to have much of interest to tell these days I should report on my day in court which turned out to be a demonstration of growing senility or at least my inability to focus on the written word.

On Feb 4, I came out of the Old Town Cafe to find a ticket on my windshield. The meter had expired which surprised me because I had set my timer and was out there several minutes early. When I’d plugged the meter there had been four minutes remaining. We arrived at 10am and I noticed that the ticket was written at 10:04am. I jumped to the conclusion that I was being ticketed for an expired meter and decided the meter had malfunctioned and I made the decision to contest. You have that option as stated on the ticket. Subsequently, I got a notice from City of Bellingham to report on March 12 at 1:30pm and to be prepared to pay my fine at that time.

So, I reported to Bellingham Municipal Court this past Thursday at 1:30pm with about 50 other violators. We were divided into “mitigators” and “contestors.” The mitigators got to go first. What I learned was that if you have the time and some kind of story to tell you have a chance of having your $30 ticket reduced to $22 or even $15 or even dismissed (if the judge can’t find the police report on his computer). If you happen to park in a handicap spot where the ticket is $450 then you really need to come up with some kind of tale and the judge might cut it in half. The judge was quite lenient. The mitigators were an entertaining bunch and that portion of court lasted for an hour.

It’s now 2:30pm and we contestors get our chance. I had my story down pat. Malfunctioning meter, I paid for my parking (60 cents) etc.
The names are called randomly and I was the last guy called, thank God because only the judge and clerk were witnesses to my lack of attention to detail. But before my name came up there was this guy who we will call “Bud.” Bud was maybe 60. A working guy. Thickly built. His infraction was letting the tail end of his enormous pickup hang over the sidewalk. His story was aggressive and antagonistic and not very compelling. It involved a land lady with Altzheimers, a short history of parking in his neighborhood and a couple other points that got lost in the commotion. I didn’t think he’d get anywhere as he had what Linda refers to (mostly pointing at me) as “bad tone” —as in (“I don’t like your tone”). He wasn’t warming the judge up at all and inflammatory language started to creep into Bud’s disquisition. He began to interrupt the judge. Things weren’t going well for Bud and, suddenly they got worse than I expected they could in Municipal Court where most of us, including Bud, were contesting a $30 problem.
It would have been easier for me to pay, certainly. However, principle was at stake. I had been victimized, so I thought, by a traffic meter. I have the time. Have to go to Bellingham once in awhile anyway. I decided to contest. This had been Bud’s plan as well. But now he stood up and said something like, “I don’t care what you think. Your opinion is crap.” I paraphrase. The judge told him to come up to the clerk to get the paperwork that showed the judge had upheld the citation and invited him to appeal if he chose. Bud stomped around a bit in front of the judge muttering loudly, refused the paperwork and began to leave the courtroom at which time the judge told him to stop, that he was “in custody”, that he was “going to jail.” At this point I’m hoping that I don’t have to go up right after Bud cuz the judge is kind of pissed and is having the clerk call the baliffs who promptly appear, two of them, and put old Bud in handcuffs and take him out. A guy contesting a $30 parking ticket has a mini rage and ends up maybe going to jail.
This was exciting and all but got me kind of rattled and I had to gather myself to remember what I was going to say. I decided to start out by saying, “You’ll notice, your honor, that the ticket was issued at 10:04am.” I thought this was a pretty strong opening and rehearsed it a bit while the rest of the contestors now weary after sitting and watching for over and hour and somewhat unnerved by what had happened to our fellow contestor Bud, walked to the witness chair, were sworn in promising to tell the whole truth and told their tale of woe. I will note that the “contestors” did not fare as well as the “mitigators” even taking Bud out of the equation. Also, mitigators don’t have to be sworn in. Contestors take the oath. I think I will be a mitigator if this ever happens to me again. A mitigator, it seems, can play with the truth a bit.
We are close to the sad and kind of pathetic ending of my story. My name is called. I sit in the witness chair and pull the mike close to me. The judge says that I’m charged with “expired license tabs.” “What?” I ask. “Do you have the right ticket there, your honor?” The judge asks me to approach the bench to look at the photo the officer took when the citation was issued. It’s a photo of my license plate and the tab which clearly shows 1/2015. I am baffled and flummoxed. Not once since owning automobiles have I let my tabs expire. I am even signed up for the email notification that reminds me to renew. But there it was. Expired tabs; not an expired meter. He hands me the ticket. It clearly states “expired tabs”. I look again at the notice inviting me to court. It says “expired tabs.” I have no pitch. Nothing to say. I have contested the wrong charge. The judge says I can reschedule if I want. I point to the photo and note that it speaks for itself. I’m clearly guilty and will pay the fine. At this point he apparently feels sorry for me and reduces the fine to $22 having flipped me into the mitigator category.
I’m the last guy in the courtroom. The judge and clerk are done for the day. They both look at me sympathetically and I wonder what they see. I don’t, most of the time, feel that I’m elderly but right then I must have looked pretty old and confused to the court—a guy that can’t even read a ticket and wastes a sunny, warm spring afternoon in Municipal Court watching a collection of citizens trying to weasel their way out of a fine.
I paid my fine and walked out of the building. There was Bud standing between two Bellingham PD uniforms. He was uncuffed, still animated and pleading his case to one of the cops. I heard the cop say, “I’m a veteran too.” Bud was obviously playing the veteran card which hadn’t even occurred to me as the basis for mitigating or contesting a ticket.
It was 65 degrees. Blossoming trees were everywhere. I headed for the courthouse to buy a license tab and thinking about having my eyes checked.