"I'd like the chance to look him in the eye and apologize, from the bottom of my heart," she said. "I see what we do in this court as a sacred trust. That might sound corny, but I truly believe it. I'm sorry for everything he had to go through."
I won't say DeAngelis had me offering to iron her robes by the time we got off the phone a half hour later. But she took some wind out of my sails.
I'd contacted the judge repeatedly before my column ran, to no avail, to ask if she had any comment on Harris' crazy situation. It had begun in 1991, when his twin brother, Edwin, racked up tickets with unpaid fines that now exceed $1,800.
But PennDOT continually confused the brothers, routinely sending to Edward, instead of Edwin, license-suspension notices for ticket nonpayment.
For 17 years - that's no typo - Edward made a mostly annual trek to Traffic Court to fight the notices. Each time, a judge would review Edward's case and notify PennDOT that the tickets weren't Edward's.
Until last November, that is, when Judge Willie Adams refused to look at paperwork that supported Edward's innocence.
Instead, he told him to start paying off the tickets, or go to jail.
That's when Harris contacted the Daily News, seeking help.
I still don't know what astounds me more: That it took Edward 17 years to get angry about PennDOT's constant screw-ups. Or that a sworn officer of the law forced him to pay for someone else's transgressions.
Thanks to Yahoo! - which picked up my story - Edward's tale elicited hundreds of responses from as far away as Australia. Many people had similarly hair-pulling stories about PennDOT.
A West Virginia reader, Doug Smith, got dinged years ago by PennDOT for tickets racked up by someone with the same name. Despite his tortured untangling of PennDOT red tape, he is still told, every time he goes to the West Virginia Department of Transportation to renew his license, that he has outstanding tickets in Pennsylvania.
"[The Virginia DOT clerk] said they got this kind of crap so often from Pennsylvania," wrote Smith, "that they just started to ignore everything coming out of the state."
Good Lord - we're more backward than West Virginia?
Everyone wanted to help Edward deal with Judge Adams, whose behavior incensed them.
Reader Robert Oatman offered $500 toward a legal fund so that Edward could sue the judge. An e-mailer named Cynthia passed along the Web site for the Judicial Conduct Board, so Edward could refer Adams for investigation. Gloria Joffe contacted the ACLU on Edward's behalf.
All of which was far too civilized for reader Mark Ritter.
"Any sane person would walk up and take Adams by the b---- and twist for doing what he did to Mr. Harris," Ritter wrote. "If you need a sane person to do it, please let me know."
I think it's a big no-no to assault an officer of the court, sir, but I so respect where you're coming from.
Edward told me yesterday that, while he's tickled by the offers of help, he's eager to put all of this behind him, now that DeAngelis has finally come through.
"Of course," he said, "other judges came through, too, and the tickets always came back. But I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. If she says this is over, I'll believe her. For now, I guess."
I will, too. Especially since DeAngelis patiently explained how Edward probably had come to have those tickets repeatedly pasted onto his record (without going into eye-numbing detail, let's just say it involves computers, merge lists and - uh-oh, my eyes just went numb).
What DeAngelis couldn't explain, though, is why it took a reporter's call for Edward to get things made right. (Edward said he'd contacted DeAngelis in the past for help; she said she had no record of his request.)
Nor would she scrutinize Adams' behavior.
"I wasn't in the courtroom," she said. "I don't know what was said or not said. Judge Adams is my colleague. It's not my place to comment on his actions."
No worries, Judge. Plenty of folks just did. *
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