UPDATED May 8, 5 p.m.: D.C. DMV Director Lucinda Babers has now dismissed all 14 of Patricia Cronauer’s tickets.
This includes overruling the hearing examiner who found Cronauer liable in December because she didn’t provide a police report on her stolen tags.
EARLIER: WASHINGTON — When Patricia Cronauer’s license plate fell off her car last summer, she never imagined it would kick start a nightmare that one lawmaker calls “a loop of insanity.”
Cronauer reported to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration that the plate was lost on Aug. 2, 2013 and turned in the remaining plate. The MVA gave her a new pair of license plates. Cronauer never reported them stolen because she had no evidence they were taken. However, she would soon learn that someone was taking advantage of her.
On Aug. 27, 2013, someone driving a Chrysler received a ticket in the 4800 block of Minnesota Avenue in Southeast D.C. for not displaying tags on the front of the car. More tickets came on Sept. 5, Nov. 1, Nov. 8, Nov. 21, Dec. 2, Dec. 13 and Feb. 8, 2014. In total, the driver racked up 14 tickets in various parts of Southeast D.C.
Each time, the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, which adjudicates all tickets in the District, sent Cronauer a “Notice of Unsatisfied Tickets” telling her she was on the hook for the fine, which had automatically doubled.
“The first time it happened, I sent the DMV a copy of the receipt from MVA to show I reported the tags were lost. That ticket was dismissed in October,” says Cronauer. “Each time, I would send them copies of the original one to let them know, this is what you decided before, this is the same tag and you’re sending it to the same people.”
Three tickets were adjudicated. Two were dismissed, but a third ticket was sustained, meaning Cronauer was on the hook for the fines.
DMV Director Lucinda Babers says a hearing examiner in December ruled Cronauer claimed the plates were stolen, and therefore, it was up to her to provide a police report in addition to the MVA receipt. Because she didn’t do so, she was found liable and the fine is now in collections. If it goes unpaid, it will go on her credit report.
“This is a wonderful example of how it’s sometimes completely arbitrary how the ruling comes out. The person who said it shouldn’t be dismissed needs to be retrained,” says D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh, who oversees the city’s ticket system.
‘Loop of Insanity’
Cronauer is frustrated that she has to repeat the same process time, and time again. She says fighting the bogus tickets has dominated her life since last autumn.
“You try to do the right thing the first time and you think they’ll do the right thing and pay attention. Then, they keep sending you this notification over and over for each of the additional tickets, as if that first time they dismissed it doesn’t count anymore,” says Cronauer. “It’s like DMV is saying we just move forward, each one of these is new and we have to send it to you every time.”
Cronauer testified before Cheh’s transportation committee and the councilwoman took an interest in her case.
“It’s almost like a nightmare being caught up in this loop of insanity. So I did send a note to the DMV director and I told her to resolve this once and for all,” says Cheh. “That’s just wrong. We can figure out mechanisms to stop something like this from getting out of control. One of them is to put some sort of alert in the file, so that when you pull up that tag, it’ll come up as ‘lost plate’ and that will be the end of it.”
But Babers says the DMV cannot add any notes to a file and does not have the power to unilaterally solve Cronauer’s problem.
“Our law says that once a ticket is issued, it must be adjudicated to be dismissed. I’m simply sharing with you what the law says, as it is currently written,” says Babers.
Cheh, a lawyer who teaches law at George Washington University, disagrees with Babers’ interpretation of the law.
“I do believe the DMV director has an overriding discretion, in cases that are plainly wrong, to rectify it, which is why I’m getting involved,” says Cheh.
“It’s just mind-boggling that they couldn’t figure out that this was the same tag on the same car, and that maybe they should do something about that, as opposed to sending me these notifications each time someone writes a ticket. It’s just extremely frustrating,” says Cronauer.
Babers has since dismissed the remaining 11 outstanding tickets on Cronauer’s record, although it appears the one decision against her will stand.
Cronauer plans to file a police report to track down the person who stole her tags.
An MVA spokesman says the state agency has removed Cronauer’s name from the tags, so Cronauer’s name will no longer pop up when D.C. DMV runs the lost plate.
This week, the D.C. City Council passed a bill that would prevent problems like this from happening in the future. If Mayor Vince Gray signs the bill, it would require the DMV to identify and dismiss any delinquent ticket when the two car brands don’t match.
Each of the 14 tickets went to a Chrysler, but Cronauer owns a Toyota sedan.
If you think you’re the victim of a bogus speed camera, red light camera or parking ticket in D.C., Maryland or Virginia, WTOP may be able to help you cut the red tape. Email us your case, along with documentation, to firstname.lastname@example.org.