Jeri Glober came to appeal four parking tickets and get the boot removed from her car. Claire Johnson took four hours out from her sewing to ask that the $85 fine her husband was assessed for two traffic citations be reduced. And Mary Hampton extended her lunch break to argue that a police officer made a mistake when he gave her a $35 ticket for parking in a bus zone.
"I parked three feet behind the white line like I've done for two years, and I know I was in the right," Hampton said.
These three are among the thousands of people who go to the District Bureau of Traffic Adjudication at 1111 E St. NW each year to appeal their traffic citations in hopes that the scales of justice will tip in their favor.
And, according to bureau officials, an increasing number of people are appealing their tickets.
"I would estimate that we're seeing 500 to 525 appeals brought each day, whereas last year we saw about 375 a day," said James McWilliams, chief of the traffic adjudication bureau, which is part of the Department of Public Works. About 75,000 people appealed their citations last year and, officials estimate, this year's total could easily surpass 125,000.
McWilliams said the recent crackdown on violators, coupled with fine increases, have resulted in an explosion in appeals. He also surmised that more and more people are being dropped by their insurance carriers because of the high accumulation of points against driving records.
In April, the first month of a District crackdown on delinquent motorists, police issued 26,329 moving citations, nearly three times the number issued last April. Police also in April wrote 40,567 parking tickets, almost twice as many tickets as were issued last April, in addition to the 80,000 parking tickets that the public works department regularly issues each month. Police also fined 3,720 pedestrians, up from 49 in April 1984.
Red light fines in June tripled to $75 from $25; in March tickets for expired tag holders doubled to $50 from $25, and parking in a residentially zoned area without a permit, went up from $10 to as much as $35.
During a recent weekday, when the line to obtain a hearing number appeared as long as that for a $25 million lottery drawing, appellants compared notes with each other as they inched their way to the service windows. Many agreed that the potent combination of the crackdown and higher fines prompted them to plead their case before one of six public works examiners.
Constance Beam, who was fined $50 for running a yellow light at Bladensburg and Mount Olivet roads, said, "Not only have I been wronged, but the fine is astronomical."
But feeling wronged isn't the only irritant. The process of obtaining a hearing ticket number, pleading the case, and paying the portion or full amount of the fine has been slowed recently because the department is two hearing examiners short, and on Monday it switched to a new computer system, which in the words of McWilliams, "needs to have the bugs worked out." Eventually, he hopes to have all tickets adjudicated within 30 minutes. Many people said they waited two to four hours to have their cases heard.
Walk-in service to appellants and those wishing to pay their bills is open on weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Those contesting moving violations must make an appointment, to enable the citing officer to be there.)
Deually last all day. (WP Photo)