Most of us do nothing. We just endure, silently hoping that someone will take a stand. Someone like Todd Bernstein.
Bernstein is the founder and director of the annual Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service, the oldest and largest such event in the United States.
In June 2011, he and his wife attended the arts festival in Manayunk. Parking was tough. He found a space on Cresson Street beneath a sign saying "one hour" parking. Fifty-five minutes later, he dutifully retrieved his car.
"We decided we wanted to stay longer, so I had to move the car to find another parking space as the law dictated," he told me last week. "I drove around for 15 or 20 minutes, came back to find in the same block about five spaces behind, and this is ironic, a Philadelphia Parking Authority enforcement officer pulling out of a space. I took that space."
After another 55 minutes, he again returned to his car. On his windshield was a ticket for $26, issued some 15 minutes after he parked.
Most of us would just pay the ticket, despite having followed the posted rule. The sign said one-hour parking - and Bernstein had moved his car to a different spot before one hour elapsed. If it had been me, I'd have sent the $26. For Bernstein it was the start of a nearly two-year quest for justice.
First, he found the parking enforcement officer who ticketed his car. ("He said he was just doing his job.")
Then he contested the ticket at the Parking Authority, which necessitated a visit. The PPA hearing examiner suggested that Bernstein could have produced a receipt for gasoline purchased that same day and said he should have known about the regulation by going to the PPA website or local Free Library. Bernstein didn't follow the logic, and the examiner didn't explain.
He appealed, necessitating another appearance. This time, a PPA supervisor, who was called into the hearing by an examiner, advised Bernstein that he could have produced a receipt from the restaurant on Main Street where he had eaten. Once again, Bernstein did not know what difference that would have made.
He lost again.
His only remaining option was an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas. However, to contest his $26 ticket, he would have to pay a nonrefundable fee of $185, plus costs for certified mail. In other words, in trying to dismiss his $26 ticket, he'd have to lose $200.
By now, his plight was covered by Ronnie Polaneczky at the Daily News. Having read her story, I suggested to Bernstein the perfect man for the job. Enter attorney George Parry, a former federal and state prosecutor practicing law in Center City, who accepted the case pro bono. (I even sent Bernstein a check for $200, which he refused to cash.) Bernstein paid his own $200 so Parry could go to court.
"I just thought that the ethics of all of this and the unfairness that the Parking Authority wielded over citizens was such that I chose to pay the $200 to appeal this to the Court of Common Pleas," Bernstein explained.
On Feb. 13, the case was heard in City Hall before Judge Idee C. Fox, who promptly vacated parking citation number 564418978; Bernstein and Parry left victorious.
"I've enjoyed every minute of it," Parry told me. "Todd's a great guy. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for pursuing this issue even though it was not in his financial interest to do so. The fact of the matter is the Parking Authority in the city of Philadelphia is a law unto itself and it was a privilege to represent Todd in this situation."
He continued, "The interpretation given by the Parking Authority was that there is a statute or an ordinance that says you're limited to one hour of parking on that particular street, and our point was, 'Well, does that mean one hour per day, one hour per week, one hour per lifetime?' "
The Parking Authority has 30 days to appeal, but Linda J. Miller, the deputy executive director, confirmed for me last week that it will not. Still, Parry isn't finished, and neither is Bernstein. Parry intends to demand the return of the $200 Bernstein had to post to appeal the case.
"I will say this for the Parking Authority," Parry remarked. "It is the only efficient agency of city government that we have. You can be 10 seconds overdue at a parking meter and there will be somebody from the Parking Authority there ticketing your car."
And Bernstein wants reform.
"I think my appeal filing fee should be returned, but the more important goal is to have the PPA reform its practices," Bernstein said. "The PPA should make all parking regulations clearly known to the public, and due process should be not punitive."
Sometimes you can fight City Hall.
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