D.C. officials admit problems with ticket writers, hearing examiners

WASHINGTON — Two D.C. officials say they believe a case recently profiled on WTOP Ticketbuster highlights problems at the Department of Public Works and Department of Motor Vehicles where innocent drivers are forced to pay tickets incorrectly.

Stephen Combs received a ticket outside his office at the Department of Veterans Affairs, at 425 I Street in Northwest, for parking in a street-sweeping zone. WTOP Ticketbuster first profiled the Combs case last month.

He received a ticket outside his office Nov. 6, 2013, at 1:16 p.m. for violating an official sign. Department of Public Works (DPW) ticket writer Marlon B. Banks alleged that Combs violated a sign that reads “No Parking: Street Cleaning, Wednesday 12:30pm-2:30pm.” But the sign also says that street sweeping restrictions only apply from March 1 to Oct. 31.

Combs challenged the ticket to the DMV and pointed out that D.C. residential street sweeping rules expire on Oct. 31. DMV Hearing Examiner Stephen Lawson ruled against Combs on Jan. 9, 2014. Even though WTOP Ticketbuster sent the DMV a link on DPW’s website about street-sweeping rules and a press release from Oct. 17, 2013, the agency refused to admit the hearing examiner made an error or reopen the case.

“The DC Department of Public Works (DPW) announced today that weekly residential mechanical street cleaning will end for the season Thursday, October 31, 2013. No Parking/Street Cleaning restrictions will be lifted and motorists may park on posted, alternate-side, daytime sweeping routes without moving their cars on street-cleaning days. All other parking restrictions will remain in effect. Residential street sweeping will resume Monday, March 3, 2014,” says the DPW press release.

The ticket became a topic of discussion at the annual DMV performance evaluation at the D.C. City Council.

“If a hearing examiner makes an error, then that is the purpose of the appeals process. Unfortunately, it’s not the purpose of the media. It’s not the purpose of me,” says DMV Director Lucinda Babers.

“If the Appeals Board reverses a decision, it goes back to the Chief Hearing Examiner [Cassandra Claytor], so that she can be made aware that maybe there’s a hearing examiner making an error and needs more coaching or training.”

However, Babers refused to admit Lawson made an error in the Combs case.

“I’ve personally not went out and looked at all the street sweeping signs. And so no, I would never stand in front of you and say I know what every single street sweeping sign says. I’m amazed that you all can say that, since you haven’t looked at all of them. So I don’t make blanket statements when I don’t know if they’re factual,” she says.

ABC7’s Kris Van Cleave then asked Babers, “Do all stop signs say stop?”

“I don’t know; I haven’t looked at all stop signs,” Babers responded.

Even if the Traffic Adjudications Appeals Board (TAAB) reversed the decision against Combs, Babers says he would have had to wait two years for the decision. Some drivers tell WTOP Ticketbuster that the wait is up to three years.

D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh, who oversees the DMV and DPW as chairwoman of the Transportation and the Environment Committee, responded to Babers’ comments.

“No, that’s completely unsatisfying, and those are the answers I don’t want to hear. That’s why we need to come up with a fix for these sorts of issues,” says Cheh.

Cheh is currently marking up the DMV Traffic Adjudication Amendment Act, which would allow drivers like Combs to reopen his case with overwhelming evidence to prove his innocence. Cheh is also considering an ombudsman who can step in during cases like this to be an independent voice in the matter.

Eventually, DPW agreed to drop the Combs ticket. DPW wrote the street-sweeping rules and also issued the ticket. WTOP Ticketbuster asked DPW whether ticket- writers should be expected to know their agencies’ own policies before issuing tickets.

“It’s a reasonable expectation; there’s no question about it. There have been some lapses; I will freely and candidly own that. However, we are addressing it through a very aggressive training program where we are holding ticket-writers, their supervisors and managers accountable,” says Teri Doke, parking enforcement management administrator at DPW.

Doke asked WTOP Ticketbuster to give her some time, since she is new at the job. She asked WTOP Ticketbuster to monitor the progress in 2014 and to expect fewer erroneous tickets issued to drivers in the District.

Babers says she doesn’t believe a similar problem exists at the DMV.

“The process actually works at the DMV. If errors are made, there is the adjudication process for the ticket-writers. If there is an error in the adjudication decision, then there is an appeal process,” she says.

Combs will get a refund for his ticket in six to eight weeks, which should arrive in April 2014. But after an ABC7 On Your Side investigation found more than $10,000 in ticket refunds were never paid out, WTOP Ticketbuster will track the Combs refund to the end.

Since the Feb. 27 refund story, a driver has come forward to claim he’s still owed a refund from June 2012. WTOP Ticketbuster is working with the DMV to get an answer on his claim.

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 ticketbuster@wtop.com.

Follow @WTOP on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up