Parking ticket advice: Be nice

The city’s entire law department took over a courtroom Friday to deal with 300 drivers insisting on

The city’s entire law department took over a courtroom Friday to deal with 300 drivers insisting on trials for parking tickets.

The tickets have been building for a year. To keep them from clogging up City Court, the assistant corporation counsels and even the city’s top attorney spent an entire day listening to excuses and offering deals — sometimes.

One driver came in to tell the attorneys that the city was a “fool” to give him a ticket.

He was showing a house to a potential buyer, he said. How could the city give him a ticket for illegal parking when he was trying to bring residents to the city?

Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden shook his head as one of his assistants listened to the speech.

“There’s no exception for Realtors,” he said. “Frankly, I would’ve cut him off the second time he said the city was a fool.”

Courtesy went a long way Friday. The law department has the authority to dismiss or reduce any parking ticket — just as the district attorney can choose which criminal cases to prosecute.

Yelling at Van Norden got defendants nowhere. Those who threw themselves on the law department’s mercy were far more likely to walk out with a small fine.

A case in point: One driver came in and admitted her car straddled a meter near the county courthouse, thereby parking in two parking spaces.

She was late for a Family Court hearing, she said. Several other cars on the street were straddling meters, leaving her with just one place to park — in the middle of two spaces.

So she fed both meters, she told Van Norden.

He dismissed the ticket.

“She paid for both spots,” he said. “She’s been nice. She’s been courteous. I have no reason not to take her word for it.”

Another driver got mercy after explaining how she ended up parking in a no-standing zone. She parked for 15 minutes while she helped an elderly resident indoors during a snowstorm.

Van Norden found the story persuasive.

“If you come in and say, ‘I know I made a mistake, these were the extenuating circumstances,’ I may say OK,” he said.

But those who refused to admit their guilt were sent to trial.

One man insisted that although he had been ticketed three times for overstaying in a two-hour loading zone, he had never actually parked too long.

In each case, he said, he had left and come back to park in the same spot.

The previous tickets had been dismissed in traffic court. But Van Norden refused to budge on ticket number three.

“It’s $10,” he said. “There’s not even anything to reduce it to. It’s literally the lowest fine in our repertoire.”

Another parking offender, an attorney, insisted she had not straddled a meter. Her argument vanished when Van Norden told her that parking attendants take photos of every car when they write a ticket.

“It was clear — the meter was smack in the middle of her car,” he said. “People need to know they take pictures. That’s a useful tool for us.”

Those pictures did get one woman out of her ticket. She was charged with parking next to a hydrant. She insisted she had no idea it was there. Sure enough, it couldn’t be seen in the photo.

“It was under four feet of snow,” Van Norden said.

Several disabled residents also made their way to City Hall to explain that they neglected to hang their handicap-parking tag from their rearview mirror.

Every one of those tickets was dismissed, Van Norden said.

Friday’s effort netted the city an estimated $1,500, though more money will trickle in as drivers pay their fines later. But only half of the 300 parking tickets were dealt with Friday. The other drivers did not show up. They will have to pay their fine, now doubled — or go to trial.

Categories: Schenectady County

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