Santa Monica Settles Parking Citation Suit

The City of Santa Monica has settled a lawsuit that pointed out that the city had not been following the legal requirements based on a State of California law that required that drivers receiving parking citations be given full written information about the citation, and if they challenged the ticket, the reasons why the challenge was disallowed.  From the news release sent out by Stan Epstein, one of the plaintiffs in the suit:

Santa Monica, August 29, 2012–More than 20,000 motorists will gain the right to have their contested parking tickets reconsidered under a settlement reached by Stan and Harriet Epstein in a case against Santa Monica and  Xerox State & Local Solutions, Inc. (formerly known as ACS). The  deal was approved by the City Council at its August 28th meeting.

In a lawsuit brought in June, 2011,  the plaintiffs alleged that persons who unsuccessfully contested their citations did not receive a “reason” why it was upheld, in violation of California Vehicle Code revisions effective January 1, 2009.  Furthermore, plaintiffs charged that the City and Xerox did not provide a second group of motorists with decisions rendered by an Administrative Hearing Officer. Evidence obtained from the defendants indicates there are 18,000 and 2,500 motorists in the first and second categories, respectively.

As a result of the lawsuit, the City claims to have changed some practices in May, 2011 and others this spring. “While we applaud the City’s changes to give future ticketed motorists more information,” said Stan Epstein, “the only relief to those injured over a 40-month period is through this Settlement Agreement. Our litigation forces Santa Monica to restore rights to drivers whose statutory rights were violated and to comply with state law hereafter.”

The City and its processing agent, now Xerox,  have agreed to provide those motorists who unsuccessfully contested parking citations from January 2009 through May 2012, with notice and an opportunity to seek a lawful explanation of their initial review or administrative hearing results.  These individuals may then request a new hearing or an appeal to the Superior Court.  Should the parking citation be cancelled following the new procedures, the City will refund the fine paid.  The City has agreed not to raise a “statute of limitations” defense. The full Settlement Agreement can be viewed on the website of plaintiffs’ attorney, Eric Benink,  www.kkbs-law.com.

So, Santa Monica cleans up its act, folks who were rolled over in the past can appeal their citation if they wish, and all is right with the world.

Here is my only issue with all this – Stan Epstein and his wife sue the city because the city dug its heels in and refused to do what the court forced them to do in the end. Stan got a small amount of money ($12,000) but is giving that to a Legal Charity. He gets the satisfaction of winning where he was right. Fair enough. But who else profits, cui bono, as they say.  The Lawyers, naturally, in this case Stan’s lawyers pocket $65,000.  And the lawyers for the city ensured they had jobs for the past year working on this case.

Someone at the city decided that they would fight Stan and Co rather than read the law and be reasonable. They felt they were in the right and there you go. Had they simply looked at what needed to be done, and acknowledged that they had a problem and fixed it, this would have gone away, no lawyers would have been involved, and nearly $80K of city money, plus the incredible amount of time spent by city departments in fighting this, would not have been wasted.

Yes, the city has to send out a bunch of letters to all persons receiving citations during the period involved, and they probably felt they didn’t want to spend the money doing that. But by fighting, they have to do it anyway and pay attorney’s fees to boot.

Often in these situations, one side believes that the other won’t really go to the expense to sue. What the city didn’t realize, was that Stan was willing to invest the time and money to prove their point.

This is a tempest in a tea pot, as far as I am concerned. People make mistakes all the time and should take responsibility for those mistakes, once they are pointed out to them. In the end, when the city reaches the 20,000 people, who paid parking tickets four or five years ago, how many do you think will actually come in and try to  turn over their convictions. Very few, I would suggest.

Stan would say that that isn’t the point, the point is that the city was not following the law and now they are. And I agree. Its too bad the city couldn’t say “Whoops, we were wrong, and we are going to make it right.” Instead lawyers got involved and there you go.

Just saying.  Good job Stan.

JVH

 

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