For the hundreds of motorists ticketed each year by U.S. Park Police in Northern Virginia, a quick trip to a federal magistrate's court in Alexandria and payment of, say, a $25 fine promptly closes the case.
But what happens when the alleged offender is a U.S. District Court judge and the judge chooses to fight the ticket in court? The answers yesterday seemed bogged down somewhere in the innards of the federal judicial system, which treats its judges with deference and respect, if not outright awe.
Late in the day, after several telephone inquiries, a law enforcement source confirmed that District Judge Oren R. Lewis had received a ticket from a Park Police officer on Oct. 22. Lewis was charged with failing to obey the command of a police officer.
"But even if Judge Lewis drives splinters under your fingernails, don't tell him where you found out," said the source.
Rather than pay a fine, the 80-year-old semiretired jurist, who still drives from his Arlington home to his office at the federal courthouse in Old Town Alexandria each day, apparently has chosen to contest the summons.
This puts the office of the U.S. Attorney in Alexandria in an awkward position. Federal prosecutors, who routinely handle traffic cases occurring on U.S. property -- such as the George Washington Memorial Parkway -- frequently have to appear in Lewis' courtroom on other matters.
A Justice Department spokesman said yesterday that, indeed, the case of the judge's traffic ticket has been referred to the department's Public Integrity Section for prosecution. Lewis declined to comment.
"It doesn't amount to anything," he said in a telephone interview last night. Asked if he was contesting the issue in court, Lewis said: "Well, we'll wait and see. I don't want to talk about it."
Spokesmen for both the Justice Department and the Park Service were equally reluctant to furnish details of the incident, including where it had happened. "Check with the court," suggested a Justice official.
An employe of the U.S. Magistrate's Court said that a hearing originally set for yesterday in the case has been postponed until "sometime in January." She said she could not be more specific. A second employe said that she could find no record of the case, nor even a copy of the ticket.
Lewis' decision to contest the ticket has put the magistrates in a bit of a bind, too. All three of the magistrates in Alexandria, who are junior to district judges and whose decisions often are appealed to the district court, removed themselves from consideration of the Lewis case last Friday.
A Justice Department spokesman said yesterday the postponement was ordered by the senior federal judge in eastern Virginia, John A. Mackenzie Jr. of Norfolk. Mackenzie's office confirmed this, but declined to give further details.