Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Traffic Ticket Blues

Well, good afternoon, everybody. I'm gonna tell a story here that I might have told previously. If so, if it's familiar, SO WHAT?????? It's still gonna be worth reading again and I'm sure I'll tell it a bit differently this time anyway.

Here it is: In 2004, I was poor. I mean, I'd moved to Texas two years earlier and was so darned broke that, as you know, I wound up working at the day labor center here just trying to get enough dough to put a stinking chicken on the table with some rice at night. As my son Marco remember it: "Dad, we had chicken every day for two years! I had no idea there were that many ways to make chicken!" If pushed he'll remember some really good franks and beans as well, but yeah, we didn't starve but we didn't have anything.
In those circumstances, things fall off the table. Like car insurance. It lapsed and I got stopped while at the courthouse in Fort Worth. I think I was there getting a background check so that I could become a substitute teacher at the local grammar school--a job that, at the time, paid an unbelieveable low $22 a day, if I remember correctly. And if I'm wrong, it might have been $28, but whatever it was it was way below minimum. I remember them explaining to me how they got around minimum wage and it was some fancy footwork, I'll tell you that.
In any event, I get my fingerprints checked and so forth and come out and there is a cop at my 1994 Ford Ranger watching the meter about to expire. I made it back just as the red tag came up and knew I was in the clear. Despite that he asked for my license and insurance. I didn't blink, just handed them over.
He noted that my insurance was out and that he'd have to ticket me. I told him I was broke and that since I made the meter on time--if just barely--that he ought to let it slide and I'd borrow money to buy the insurance the next day. He didn't go for it.
So I got the insurance two days later and went to the traffic court and showed them that I'd gotten it and the judge told me to go out to the tellers and pay the $10 or $20 court cost and that was that. So I did.
That ticket occurred on November 6, 2004. My insurance was renewed on November 8, 2004.
Fast forward to February 15, 2011, and in the mail is a letter from the agency that collects delinquent fees for Fort Worth, telling me I owe $425.10 for the 2004 ticket. I couldn't believe it. I went into my tax boxes to find the receipt and wouldn't you know that I only had back to 2005. I don't remember tossing earlier years but I suppose I did at some point--I threw away a lot of stuff when we had the field rat invasion of the little building out back where I kept things like shoeboxes of taxes that the rats had made nests in.
In any event, I knew the city couldn't be serious but knew I'd have to go to court to explain myself. So I went to my insurance agent and asked him for a copy of any insurance I'd bought in November, 2004. He printed out an old copy of the purchase i made on Nov. 8.
Armed with that I went to court and explained to the judge that while I didn't keep tax returns--and recepits--for more than five or six years, I could prove that I'd gotten insurance within 48 hours of getting the ticket, and it only stood to reason that I'd come in and shown that, which is why the judge had told me to pay just $10 or $20, I couldn't remember which. I was sure they'd drop it--particularly given that there had been no notices in the intervening six years and three months indicating that was late in paying the ticket.
The judge didn't buy it. She asked me if I wanted a judge or jury trial. I told her jury trial. I thought that was best because a jury would understand my reasoning.
Well, it turns out the hearing was announced in June and held in July. As I was in Peru, I had no idea of either notices' existence. Which didn't stop Fort Worth from putting out an arrest warrant for me.
Today I called the city and asked how to handle it. I volunteered to bring in my passport to prove I was in Peru at both the time of the hearing notice as well as the hearing itself. And you know what I was told? By all means I should come in. Bring the passport. I will be arrested, and my bond will be the price of the ticket, $425.10, plus an additional $65. I will give them the money and they will release me and set a new hearing date. If I make it and am found innocent, I'll get my money back. If found guilty, they'll keep the money.
I'm not really happy about this nonsense. I paid the damned fine nearly eight years ago at this point. I don't think it's fair for a city to expect you to keep a $10-$20 receipt for more than six years. I mean, if I never did pay the ticket, why weren't there any notices for all those years? Does not make sense and puts the ticketee in the position of having to prove the ticket was paid, rather than have the city prove it wasn't.
As to why the city has no record of my payment, I really don't know. I know I'm not the only one in Fort Worth dealing with this--at least one, and maybe two, others at the Fort Worth Weekly newspaper has had the same issue, and last year the paper did a story about it and the writer found others to whom it had happened as well. Every one of the tickets involved deal with 2003-2004, the period of time when the city was changing computer systems in the traffic division. That might be where the problem lies--the city simply lost records. On the other hand, I think the problem lies with the legal team that collects the city's delinquent fees: They know that if they simply request fines--fines that have probably been paid years earlier--several years after tickets were issued, that people won't have their receipts, and so will have to fork over big fees. And from those fees the collecting agency is getting between 35 and 50 percent.
I don't know that I will win this one. I haven't the gelt to fight it properly and without my old receipt I cannot prove my case. So I'm probably gonna lose.
I'm not going to like that.
And it will still be wrong on the city's part.


Seattlesauce said...

Hi Peter, here is a story you may find informative.


Good luck! Keep up the good fight.


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