August 14, 2012 21 Comments
The knowledge I’ve gained as to the legal system since filing my suit against the TSA is invaluable. Knowing one’s rights, and precisely how to demand them, is a beautiful thing.
So, when a Miami Beach “public safety officer” (hereafter, “the meter maid”) asked me to move my car while I was loading it in a “no parking” zone, I politely informed her that I wasn’t parking, but standing. She not so politely wrote me a ticket and informed me to move my car or it would towed. I looked it up later, and I was indeed right: parking in Florida is defined as “the standing of a vehicle, whether occupied or not, otherwise than temporarily for the purpose of and while actually engaged in loading or unloading merchandise or passengers…”
No problem, just go to the little parking court hearing and explain and they’ll toss the ticket right? Nope. “Hearing officer” Carmen Dominguez, who according to her profile with her day job at Miami Dade College has been an attorney for 23 years, wanted to hear none of it. She refused to allow me to ask the meter maid what the definition of parking was. She hurried me, telling me maybe 2 or 3 minutes in that people were waiting. And, despite eventually getting the meter maid to admit that she thought parking was defined as “when the gear shift is in park” and that she made no attempt to determine if I was loading or unloading, I was found guilty and fined a wallet-busting $40 or so.
Clearly she didn’t know who I am. I went down to the Parking Violations Bureau and filed a Notice of Appeal, together with a filing fee of ~$300. Quite the gamble: if I lose, I’m now out $340, and if I win, I’m up my $40 (assuming I can chase down the county for the filing fee) — which is probably why the clerk at the PVB told me I was the first one he’s ever seen file an appeal. I then took my appellate brief that I filed in my first TSA case and used that as a template for my new appeal. I researched Florida appellate procedure (it’s not complicated and took maybe an hour or so) and the parking laws one more time, and went to writing. Twelve pages later, my appellate brief was finished. The arguments were basically, 1) the only witness against me admitted she didn’t know what parking was, 2) the only witness against me admitted she didn’t know if I was loading/unloading, and 3) the judge erred in refusing to allow me to ask the meter maid for the definition of parking.
The county decided not to respond to my appeal. This doesn’t get me a default judgment, however: in appellate court, the case is still evaluated on the merits of the appeal and based on any records from the lower court. I got the happy verdict today: reversed and remanded! A 3-judge panel ruled that “as a result of [the meter maid's] misconception of the law, this Appellate Court finds that insufficient evidence existed on the record to satisfy the statutory elements proving the existence of a parking violation.”
This is actually my first win in appeals court, so it’s pretty exciting for me, even if it’s a low-stakes case. Was it worth it? Probably not, but it’s that “principle of the thing” that gets me every time. It’s also nice to see that the kangaroo courts that many municipalities set up can indeed be beaten. I think I’ll send an autographed copy to the meter maid and Ms. Dominguez.
In case anyone wants to give it a go themselves, here’s what worked for me…