D.C. mayoral candidate Vincent Gray dealing with 2002 Md. traffic ticket

By Mike DeBonis and Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 8, 2010

A traffic ticket issued to D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray in 2002 went unpaid for more than seven years, court records indicate, and he sought to address the matter weeks after launching his mayoral campaign.

The ticket was issued by a Maryland state trooper shortly after 11 a.m. Dec. 29, 2002 -- a Sunday -- on the inner loop of the Capital Beltway south of Ardwick Ardmore Road, not far from FedEx Field.

Campaign spokeswoman Traci Hughes said Gray was on his way to a Washington Redskins game when he attempted to get around a traffic jam by driving on the right shoulder. Gray was among several drivers stopped and cited for the maneuver, she said. The Washington Post could not confirm Wednesday whether other motorists had been stopped.

At the time of the citation, Gray was not in public office but was serving as executive director of Covenant House Washington, a nonprofit organization serving homeless youths. In 2004, he won a council seat representing Ward 7 as a Democrat. Two years later, he was elected council chairman.

The ticket remained active through both elections. "He thought he had paid the ticket," Hughes said Wednesday, adding that Gray takes "full responsibility" for the offense. The outstanding citation was discovered in the course of "due diligence" research for his campaign, she said.

Gray was ordered to appear in a Prince George's County court March 4, 2003, but records indicate that he did not show up. According to documents, the court declared a "failure to appear suspension." If Gray were a Maryland resident, that would have resulted in a suspended driver's license, said Buel Young, a spokesman for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. Young said Maryland revokes the driving privileges of out-of-state drivers under certain circumstances, but not in the case of a failure to appear in court.

Maryland officials notified the District's Department of Motor Vehicles about Gray's failure to appear in court, Young said. Mafara Hobson, a spokeswoman for the District, said the city's DMV did not have information on file about the 2002 ticket. She said the city was notified after Gray communicated with the Maryland MVA in May.

If the DMV "had had that information, his license would have been suspended," Hobson said of Gray's failure to appear in court in 2003.

In a May 12, 2010, letter, Gray attorney Timothy F. Maloney of Greenbelt said Gray was "completely unaware that this matter remains opened," and he asked the court to set a trial date. Maloney also included a $70 check for what he termed a "penalty deposit."

But there was a hiccup, according to a June motion that Maloney and another Gray attorney submitted to the court.

"In lieu of setting the matter for trial, the Court deposited the check and entered a finding of guilt," they wrote. "The Defendant requests that the finding of guilt . . . be stricken, and that the matter be set for trial as soon as possible."

The case was reopened, and a trial date was set for Aug. 26, according to court documents.

But Gray has now decided not to challenge the ticket, and he has instructed Maloney to send a letter indicating that he would pay the fine, Hughes said. "It's my understanding it will be sent by the end of the week," she said. "He is forfeiting his right to a hearing."

The increasingly heated election-year political environment has brought additional scrutiny to Gray's personal affairs. Most recently, a city board ordered Gray to address an unpermitted fence erected around his Hillcrest neighborhood home. He has until later this month to remove or lower the fence.

Gray's leading opponent in the mayoral race, incumbent Adrian M. Fenty (D), has had a traffic issue of his own. In May 2008, Fenty received a $50 ticket while driving his city-owned Smart car at 43 mph in a 30 mph zone on East Capitol Street, the Washington City Paper reported. Fenty promptly paid the ticket, which had been issued by a automated camera system.

The game that Gray would have been attending was a season-closing matchup against the Cowboys -- notable for being star cornerback Darrell Green's final game in the NFL.

The Redskins won, 20-14.

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