Today was the tow hearing. After working a 15 hour day, I got home the night before and prepared a line of questioning for the Parking Enforcement Officer (PEO) that would do one of two things; either show that there’s no working universal standard of what a “school day” is or help me to be a more efficient citizen by teaching me where to find the information I’ve been missing every single summer for the last decade yet never cited for. I took the subway to downtown and exited at the Civic Center stop. I had to hike 500 feet to street level because the escalator was broken. But it was well worth the effort when I got to the top and caught today’s glimpse of Los Angeles’ beautiful City Hall. I walked a few blocks to the LA Mall where the DOT conducts tow hearings. I was there at 8:30, an hour early because I usually get ideas for good questions when I’m nervous and waiting in the lobby. A pleasant receptionist greeted me, signed me in and pulled my file. She was even nice enough to make an extra copy of my tow receipt and told me she’d call me when the PEO arrived. The lobby emptied as they called people with appointments ahead of me. Each person reemerge 20 minutes later looking disappointed. More people with later appointments arrived and by 9:45 they started calling them back too. They too exited and left so I got up and asked about the delay. The receptionist said she was holding with the PEO’s supervisor, who didn’t know where they were. I informed them that I had a 9:30am hearing and if I had arrived late I would have forfeited my due process. It was well after 10:00am when the receptionist perked up; someone finally came to the phone. The supervisor informed her that the PEO would not be coming. The receptionist consulted a lady in the lobby, returned to the window and told me that I could either waive my right to question the officer or make another appointment. I told her that it wasn’t a right if I had to waive it and neither of those options would suffice. I informed her that I wanted my scheduled hearing. She told me to have a seat and after another lengthy wait, the examiner called my name.
I walked through the door and a security guard had me empty my pockets and declare I didn’t have any weapons. After waving me down with a metal detector wand the examiner led me to the hearing room and closed the door.
The examiner, Silvia Vasquez, turned on a voice recorder, began explaining the process to me and surreptitiously asked me if I waived my right to have the officer present. I objected. She then said I had to if I wanted a hearing. I told her that this was unfair; I showed up for the scheduled hearing prepared to exercise my right and now I’m being told it was contingent on waiving another right; the most important one at that. I told her I did not waive my right and that none of the officer’s evidence should be considered because they weren’t there to qualify it. She told me that in hearings court rules don’t apply so she’d be the one determining what evidence would be considered. I told her this was extremely unfair and she said her hands were tied. For being a process where certain rules didn’t apply, the rule making me waive my right seemed resolute. Silvia began kicking me out so I tried to thread the needle by stating I would waive my right but only under duress because I didn’t have the time to come back. Plus, I shouldn’t have to bear the burden of attending another hearing to compensate for the PEO’s truancy. I had her in a corner. To bolster my case about not having the time, I asked if they had Saturday hearings and she said, “I think so,” then tried sending me to the receptionist; she knew the DOT didn’t have Saturday hearings and she just wanted me out. When she started kicking me out again I threaded the already-threaded needle by agreeing to waive my right to question the officer. I did however, state that the situation caused me to do so against my wishes. We began the hearing.
I started by emphasizing how a proper hearing wasn’t possible because I couldn’t challenge the person who created the evidence. Examiner Vasquez told me that she might be able to answer questions designated for the officer. I fired off; I asked her to tell me how the DOT determines what a school day was and how that would be intelligible to citizens desiring to park by the school. Her explanation was all over the place and failed to yield anything concrete. She said she’d look on the field to see if kids were playing so I asked, “what if the kids are between periods or not using the field when someone looks.” She said then she’d call the school and ask. I asked her if that was the DOT’s position and she backpedaled by saying that is “what she would do personally.” I asked her how that related to my obligations as a citizen. And she didn’t have an answer. I asked her where the DOT gets its information regarding school days. She said that the school calls DOT and also sends notice to supervisors, who communicate this information to Officers in the field. I asked if average citizens get any of these notices and she said “no.” I asked her how does a citizen become privy to this information and she didn’t have an answer. I emphasized that thus far, she had still failed to give me any concrete method a citizen would be obligated to use for determining what a school day was. I then asked her why whatever she was trying to explain should overrule the LAUSD school calendar. She had no clear explanation. In all, I spent nearly an hour presenting my case.
As I left, I reiterated my disappointment in being denied my right to question the citing officer. Examiner Vasquez, having had time to muster up an excuse, said, “maybe something happened to the officer. Let’s hope she’s ok.” Sure this is possible but I can tell you from experience that I would have been required to present proof and judges have never made speculative excuses for my truancy. Nor would she have had I not shown up. Double Standard?
She informed me that she would make a decision in the upcoming days and I would receive notice. I thanked her and told her to not take my harshness personally, rather she should understand that what had taken place, from the citation to the hearing, was wrong and served no other purpose than to tax me beyond the tax code. We bid each other a pleasant farewell and I left.
I didn’t think Examiner Vasquez would decide in my favor and she didn’t. Although she could not definitively tell me how citizens could determine what a school day was, I figured a letter I received days later from Seleta Reynolds, the GM of the Department of Transportation, might indicate her path to legitimizing this cash grab. It said that I was arguing that there was no school that day and I should have checked the school website to see that there was. The DOT has some serious cognitive issues. After several letters arguing these tickets were without purpose, she somehow thought I was saying there was no school that day. I’m going to start calling the DOT, the Deaf Office of Transportation.
Stay tuned for part 4 where the Los Angeles DEAF Office of Transportation can’t seem to hear that I advised them ahead of time that I wouldn’t be in town to meet their 21-day deadline.