D.C. Council chairman: DMV not fairly considering ticket appeals

WASHINGTON – D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson admits there are problems at the Department of Motor Vehicles with adjudicating tickets and plans to look into legislation to help remedy the issue.

“I have thought there are problems for years. I think there are tickets erroneously upheld all the time,” says Mendelson, a Democrat. “Justice is about what is fair. I think often, too often, the adjudication of tickets is unfair.”

The DMV adjudicates all tickets written in the District and hears about 200,000 contested cases per year. According to records, the District writes nearly 2 million tickets per year.

“Assuming about 1 million tickets, if 1 percent fall through the cracks, that’s 10,000 drivers. That’s a lot of people,” says Mendelson.

Mendelson spoke to WTOP after his staff unsuccessfully tried to get the DMV to reverse a ruling against federal employee John Stanton, whose story was the first featured in WTOP’s TicketBuster series.

Stanton received a parking ticket in July 2011, although Stanton was overseas at the time on official government business. He provided the DMV with government orders and receipts, but was found liable twice.

In April, he obtained and turned over time-stamped photos showing his vehicle in the Dulles International Airport garage at the same time a D.C. Department of Transportation officer alleged the vehicle was in Northeast D.C.

“Mr. Stanton’s motion to reconsider was denied on March 22, 2013. His ticket is closed,” says DMV spokeswoman Vanessa Newton, who points out Stanton didn’t respond to the original ticket within the required 60 days.

Records show that Stanton replied at 66 days.

DMV Director Lucinda Babers ignored several requests from WTOP to conduct a sit-down interview about the case, and also refused to answer several detailed questions about his evidence.

“It’s unfortunate that guilt or innocence is not up for discussion here. Rather it’s some arbitrary timeline set forward by the DMV,” says Stanton. “We have a sense of a rule of law. To have this tomfoolery with the District of Columbia is really mind-boggling.”

Mendelson believes the DMV is stuck between process and press, and adds that while Stanton replied too late, the DMV shouldn’t trip up innocent drivers with deadlines.

“I think the D.C. DMV should do something about this, and I think Mayor Gray or the D.C. Council should do something about it,” he says.

Mendelson tells WTOP he’s considering a measure to address these issues.

“It could be something like the Innocence Protection Act that we have in the criminal law. That if a person comes back with evidence that shows the ticket absolutely was not theirs, even though the time has passed, the DMV can and should reopen it,” he says.

Mendelson warns that he’s only thinking about it, and will talk to staff about it over the next several weeks.

Councilman Jim Graham, who serves on the council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment — which oversees the DMV — agrees with the idea of legislation to address the problem and help drivers.

“Innocence should be a defense whether a day or so late, or not,” Graham, D-Ward 1, says in an email to WTOP.

“Either you’re part of the problem or you’re part of the solution,” says Stanton. “I’m not sure whether Mr. Mendelson will be successful, but I am encouraged that he is taking an interest in the issue and acknowledges there is a large problem here.”

Still, going forward, Stanton says he’ll start using parking garages.

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