CITY HALL — A reorganization of Los Angeles County courthouses is hitting Santa Monicans close to home by making an already unpleasant aspect of car ownership even worse — parking tickets.
As of March 18, Santa Monicans that have had the unfortunate experience of a run-in with local parking enforcement must travel to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Downtown L.A. to appeal a traffic citation.
The courts posted an announcement on its website in early March, but that didn’t help Santa Monica resident Eric Cooper, who was caught in a particularly odd set of parking ticket circumstances.
Cooper’s citation dates back to 2009.
Normally, the window on appeal would be rusted shut on such a case, but Cooper’s ticket was revived as the result of an August 2012 settlement between Santa Monica residents Stanley and Harriet Epstein and City Hall.
The Epsteins sued City Hall, claiming that Santa Monica officials had violated the California Vehicle Code by sending motorists form letters that gave no justification to those who wanted to contest the citations why they have received the ticket.
The settlement awarded the Epsteins $12,500 from ACS — now called Xerox, the company that processes tickets issued in Santa Monica — and the Epsteins’ attorney received $65,000 from City Hall.
Additionally, City Hall had to send out letters to people who received a citation and requested only an informal review, as well as those who did that and went to an administrative hearing when contesting a ticket.
Cooper was one of those who got a new chance at an appeal. A hearing administrator shot down his argument in late February, but gave him 30 days to appeal her decision in court.
The address provided was the Santa Monica Courthouse, which would have been the right place to go up until March 15, the last day on which a ticket could be appealed at the site.
Cooper went on the last day he could appeal the decision, March 22.
Court officials were confused, bouncing him around to a variety of courtrooms before ultimately telling him that they could not help him, Cooper said.
When he contacted City Hall, Cooper only found more surprise.
That’s because no one at City Hall knew that the Santa Monica Courthouse had lost its capacity to hear ticket appeals, said Jeanette Schachtner, deputy city attorney for City Hall.
“The courts neglected to tell their law enforcement agencies who have parking ticket appeals that they were making the change,” Schachtner said.
City officials received mixed information about the parking ticket appeals, and didn’t change the address of the courthouse to which a parking ticket could be appealed on formal notices until March 26.
That wasn’t soon enough for Stanley Epstein, who reentered the fray when Cooper reached out to him for help on his ticket.
City Hall should have known about the reorganization and fixed the notices at least by March 3, because attorneys received notice about the consolidation in late February, Epstein said.
That left 23 days in which people received incorrect information, and potentially lost their day in court.
He takes that as a violation of the settlement agreement between himself and City Hall, and has informed the City Attorney’s Office of such.
“My prediction is that this is going to be settled in a manner that will protect everybody,” Epstein said. “The only thing that is going to stop that is if the court system takes the position that the 30 days cannot be extended. If they take that position, a lot of people are going to be denied their day in court because of the actions of the city and Xerox.”
Nobody has complained about the mix-up except Cooper, Schachtner said, but City Hall will send out new notices to roughly 119 people who received an administrative hearing decision letter that contained the Santa Monica Courthouse address within the last 30 days.
As of Monday, Cooper’s ticket had been dismissed.
He’s still unhappy with the thought that a Santa Monica resident would have to travel to Downtown L.A. at least twice to contest a basic parking ticket. The cost of the trip quickly ramps up when travel expenses, particularly parking, are factored in, he said.
“Nobody should have to pay $40 in parking to fight a $50 ticket,” Cooper said. “Even if I win my ticket, I’m a loser.”
Those outside of the parking ticket community agree wholeheartedly.
The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Western Center on Law & Poverty, Disability Rights Legal Center and Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County filed a lawsuit in March alleging that the court consolidation — which moved certain court services into “hubs” — violated the rights of people with disabilities who could not reasonably travel long distances to fight critical battles like an eviction notice.