Court serves justice on Parking Authority

The Parking Authority officer who wrote this ticket on Walnut Street near 6th might have to explain the details of the violation if the driver fights it. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO
The Parking Authority officer who wrote this ticket on Walnut Street near 6th might have to explain the details of the violation if the driver fights it. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO
Posted: July 20, 2012

FOR MORE than a year, I've been chronicling the injustices of the Philadelphia Parking Authority and its sister agency, the Bureau of Administrative Adjudication.

When my columns hit print, though, their effect on the PPA and the BAA has been akin to that of a mosquito biting into a rhino's neck: Momentarily bothersome, but inconsequential.

Too many phony-baloney tickets are still being written by enforcement agents. And too many of them are then upheld on appeal by BAA hearing examiners who dismiss reasonable evidence showing that those tickets were written in error.

God, it's depressing!

That's why my jaw hit the desk when I heard that, last week, Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker flipped PPA/BAA "justice" on its head. He issued an order that calls for an unprecedented level of fairness and accountability from the BAA in determining whether PPA tickets are legit.

And get this: These changes were ordered "forthwith." Which means they took effect July 11 and remain in effect even as I type this.

So take heed, because this four-part order is a game-changer.

Part 1 says that we're allowed, when appealing a parking ticket, to cross-examine the enforcement agent who wrote it (if we give enough notice of our request). Not only must the BAA let us know, before the hearing, that we have this right, but the bureau must "initiate procedures" that will accommodate it.

I don't know about you, but if I were a PPA ticket writer prone to writing iffy tickets, I'd be scared straight if I thought a ticket recipient would question me under oath.

Part 2 requires the BAA hearing examiner to dismiss a parking ticket if the violation doesn't identify the precise location of the vehicle. It won't be acceptable, in other words, for a ticket writer to vaguely note, say, "the 600 block of N. 22nd St.," since that block contains both open and restricted parking spaces.

So the benefit of the doubt won't automatically go to the ticket writer if he or she has been obtuse about where the violation occurred.

Part 3 requires ticket writers to sign the tickets they generate, to "affirm the truth of the facts." If they aren't signed, the violations won't be sustained.

Part 4 is my favorite. If a BAA hearing examiner upholds a ticket, he or she must detail, in writing and by the end of the hearing, the reasons for it.

So a hearing examiner won't be able to dismiss an appellant's reasonable questions with a snippy response to "take it up with the Court of Common Pleas."

Those aren't my words, by the way. They're the exact words that a hearing officer named Harry Allen used, four times, in response to Jim Pavlock, a Spring Garden lawyer who appealed two tickets last July.

During the hearing, Pavlock pointed out the many ways that the tickets did not conform with the Philadelphia code and the Pennsylvania administrative law that governs PPA violations and BAA hearing procedures. When he asked Allen for clarification, Allen couldn't have been less interested.

Instead, the transcripts of the hearing show, Allen suggested that Pavlock put his questions to the Court of Common Pleas, an undertaking that would require a nonrefundable $189 filing fee.

Pavlock called Allen's bluff. Judge Leon Tucker was assigned to hear his appeal. Tucker dismissed Pavlock's tickets. And, to make sure those errors weren't repeated in other cases, he also issued the four-part injunction against the BAA.

So how will this play out?

BAA director Jerry Connors says that Tucker's order, received Friday, has been referred to the city's Law Department for review.

The PPA, though, offered an official "no comment." So I couldn't ask spokesman Marty O'Rourke why PPA's lawyers tried to cancel Pavlock's tickets just two days before his hearing before Tucker. In a letter to the judge, attorneys Dennis Weldon and Alanna Buchanan argued that, by canceling the tickets, they'd made Pavlock's case "moot" and they moved to have it dismissed.

Tucker responded that the lawyers had no legal standing to do so, since the case was now before him, not the BAA. The happy result is that we, the people, finally have a shot at reasonableness and accountability from two agencies that play fast and loose with the power that they have to disrupt the lives of the parking public.

Do you feel the same chill I'm feeling?

I think hell just froze over.

Contact polaner@phillynews.com. Call 215-854-2217. Blog: www.philly.com/ronnieblog. Twitter: @RonniePhilly.

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