IT'S BEEN three weeks since Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker issued an order that injects unprecedented fairness into the unfair process of appealing a parking ticket in Philadelphia.
Sadly, it's also been three weeks since the city — which oversees the hearing examiners who handle the appeals — has decided that, sorry, it's just not "practical" to follow the judge's order.
I'm no lawyer. My garbled, layman's knowledge of legal terms means I sometimes use the word "slay" instead of "stay," and "notion" instead of "motion."
So I might be confused when I say the city appears to be in contempt of Judge Tucker's order.
But I certainly know contemptible behavior when I see it. And this is contemptible.
To get you up to speed, here's a recap:
July 11: Tucker, in response to an appeal from an aggrieved recipient of tickets from the Philadelphia Parking Authority, issues an order that allows ticket recipients to cross-examine the officers who write the disputed violations.
He also decrees that ticket writers must include the exact location of the violation and must sign the ticket. And he says that if a hearing examiner upholds a disputed ticket, he or she must put in writing the reasons for doing so.
July 19: In my column, I write about this groundbreaking order. Within hours, an aggrieved ticket recipient named Christopher Williams calls me. After reading my story, he says, he raced down to the parking Board of Administrative Adjudication, which handles ticket appeals. He has a hearing scheduled in October, so he wanted to give notice that he planned to cross-examine the ticket writer at his hearing.
Instead, he was brought into a back room by a BAA supervisor and told that Judge Tucker's order is not in effect, because it is being appealed.
But this is not true. The city has not yet filed an appeal. Even if it had, a filed appeal wouldn't suspend Tucker's order.
July 20: The city files a motion asking Judge Tucker to "reconsider" his order.
July 23: The judge denies the city's motion. Meanwhile, two more aggrieved ticket recipients tell me that the BAA has reiterated that Tucker's order is not in effect. Again, this is not true.
July 25: I call City Solicitor Shelley Smith for clarification. She tells me that it is not "practical" for the city to follow Tucker's orders at this time. It would require a reworking of BAA procedures that would, if the order is overturned on appeal, basically be a lot of work for nothing, she says.
July 26: More aggrieved ticket recipients call to say that the BAA is ignoring Tucker's order. All I can do is repeat what Media-based lawyer Fintan McHugh tells me.
"Unless there's an actual court order or a stay," says McHugh, who is advising the man who triggered Tucker's order, "the order stands."
That's why ticket recipient Tony Sovinski was so frustrated by the hearing examiner he dealt with at the BAA last week.
"I told her that her failure to recognize the judge's order could make her and the BAA subject to civil or criminal penalties," says Sovinski, who isn't a lawyer but has a lot of lawyer friends. "She seemed concerned. But then she found me liable for two tickets totaling $127."
Sovinski has appealed the examiner's decision to Common Pleas Court, where another judge might — who knows? — issue another order for the city to ignore.
Granted, Tucker's order is a pain in the rear to implement. The PPA has to figure out how to make ticket writers available for cross-examinaiton, for example. And BAA hearing examiners, because they'd have to explain in writing why they're upholding tickets, would have to become better-versed in the parking codes they're supposed to fairly enforce.
And — uh, oh — the city itself might have to revisit the code that created the BAA in the first place.
The BAA is supposed to be a neutral zone where ticket recipients receive an unbiased ruling from a hearing officer who has no stake in the outcome, other than to ensure that it's fair.
But how is that possible, really, when one of the BAA's goals, according to the Philadelphia Code, is to "increase the collection of parking program revenues"?
The system is stacked against reasonable civilians with reasonable complaints about tickets that appear to have been erroneously written.
Tucker's order intends for the BAA to get to the heart of that.
Not sometime in the future, when the city feels it will be "practical" to do that. But right now.
Because this contempt for reasonableness has gone on long enough.