Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Saga Continues

So yesterday I went to take care of the Manhattan leg of my car ticket woes. Already took care of Yonkers last week. I was enlightened, disgusted, relieved, and befuddled.

Quick recap (not posted on this blog, sorry)... my front license plate had been missing, and I got a few tickets before I realized it was gone, and another after I got new plates, but before I could get the front plate mounted on my bumper. Had one Spanish guy at the local auto parts store try to screw it into my metal bumper and then had to attempt to explain that he would actually need a drill to do it because the bumper is not plastic. Finally got J and Tray's guy in Riverdale to do it.

So the plan was to plead to the judge that I got four tickets for the same offense, tried hard to get it fixed as soon as possible, and made all attempts to rectify the situation. So the day before, I checked online to see if there was any info I might be able to use to make my case. HOLY CHRIST ON A CRACKER !!! There were SEVEN additional tickets that I didn't know about. I had almost $1000 of outstanding fines. I'm AMAZED my car had not been towed. I immediately brought the car to the parking garage so the sharks w/ the tow trucks didn't scoop me up. All these tickets were BEFORE the first ticket I had ever seen for the missing plate... they were parking IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD, double parking, alternate side parking, missing registration and inspection, and missing front plate. HUH? I didn't do any of those things... except missing front plate. Further scrutiny of the tickets (immaged online) and I saw the vehicle description... Blue Ford Pickup !!! I drive a BLACK JEEP !!! Now it all makes sense. Bucci called it right away, though it never occurred to me... somebody either swiped my plate off my car, or off the ground, and slapped it on the back of his unregistered vehicle and parked wherever he felt like parking. I wish I checked the vehicle description on my Yonkers tickets... wish the judge bothered to look too. Some of the NYC tix had a note saying VIN not visible, but two of them had a VIN listed which was NOT mine.

OK, so here's where it gets weird. Down at 66 John Street to the NYC department of finance where you can adjudicate your tickets and pay your fines. First step they send you to a window to get a printout of all your tickets. Next you go to the waiting area where you read the posters which detail the procedure. You have TWO CHOICES. First you go to a clerk, not a judge, and (s)he will automatically offer you a significant reduction of your fines (for most offenses). Then you can choose to take this reduced fine, OR go see the judge. The judge is not allowed to reduce the fines. He can dismiss the ticket or uphold the ticket. It's an actual gamble that you are taking.

So, before I get to the clerk/judge, there's the incompetent lady. She's got the clip board, calls the numbers, ushers people into seats where you wait for the clerk. She tells me, "fill out this form, go down this hall and have a seat". I ask politely if there is a pen I could use (my fault, I shouldn't go anywhere... especially court... without a pen). She assures me there's a clip board down the hall. So I walk a few feet to the end of the hall and there are chairs on both sides. I take a seat as she walks past me and wanders further down the hall. I spot the clipboard, stand up to get it, am walking back to my seat while fitting my form into the clipboard. She starts to berate me... "Sir, PLEASE have a seat. There's no reason for you to be standing up." I sit down and start to fill out the form. She says "So you're going to see the judge?" I say, "Yes, I intend to. But first I'd like to see what the reduced fine is." (This was spelled out clearly on the posters) Incompetent lady then says "No, you already gave up that choice." I calmly said "I'm sorry, but I didn't make any such choice." She said "But you're sitting on this side of the hall, that means you chose to see the judge." I said, "No, I sat where you told me to, and have not many any choices yet. I'd like to see what my reduced fines will be." She said "Then why are you on THIS SIDE... you should be on THAT side." (she points to seats three feat away on the other side of the narrow hall). "OK, thanks, I'll sit there then."

Clerk calls "NEXT", and I go talk to her. She's a little better, but still seemed befuddled by the task of doing exactly what she's been doing all day, every day, for God knows how long. Seemed like a novelty that she had to go through a pile of copies of tickets, and check them off, and figure out what the reduction would be. I told her that I was planning on seeing the judge about the first 7 tickets... she said "Which are the first seven?" I said, "you see that form on top that lists my 11 tickets? The first seven on that list are the first seven tickets." Oddly enough, she seemed incapable of looking through a stack of papers without spreading them out haphazardly on her desk, and then stacking them back up in a random order. She did help me out, though. She noted that of the four tickets that actually seemed to be written for MY car, for an offense that was (arguably) my responsibility, that two of them were issued on the same day, so she waved that one right away. The reduced the other three from $95/$75/$75 down to $43 each. At that point I said, I'll take that deal and see the judge about the rest.

OK, now back out to the hall and sit on what I now know is the correct side. Incompetent lady is now ushering other people into seats. Mind you, she's supposed to put people in seats IN ORDER, because that's how they determine who is NEXT. She seats an Asian guy, who clearly has little capacity in English, on the correct side and he starts filling out his form. He says "Miss, can you please give me back my ticket." She says "Ticket? I don't have your ticket? How did you lose your ticket? I don't take nobody's ticket!!!" He talks to the Asian guy next to him, and he sayd "Miss, he says you took his ticket, and he needs it to show the clerk." She says "Oh wait... I DID take your ticket and I have no idea what I did with it." She wanders around aimlessly for a minute or two, then walks back to the front waiting area where the other girl working there says "Hey, you left this stuff here !!" She brings back his ticket.

Meanwhile, several people on my side have been called in to see the judge, so there are a couple of open seats. As incompetent lady ushers a few more people down the hall, they fill in the open seats, one of which was IN FRONT of me, others were in front of other people behind me. So she can't even seat people in the correct order, or keep track of people's documents... which is ALL she does ALL DAY.

OK, then judge calls me in to an office, swears me in, hears my story, looks at the tickets, believes me, and dismisses all seven tickets. We talk VERY briefly as he's printing out the documents for me... I can see things lightened up as soon as he decided I was not a liar or scammer. He asked if I called the police when I realized somebody was using my plates. I said I didn't figure it out until yesterday, but I figure as soon as I re-registered my care for the new plates, the old ones would raise a red flag for any police officer writing a ticket for the OLD plates. He laughed and said, "No, they just write the tickets. Nobody runs plates. You'd think writing a ticket for a vehicle with a missing plate, no registration, and no inspection, with the VIN covered up would be enough to have him call for it to be towed... wouldn't you?"

OK, yippie-ay-oh-kay-ay !!! I just saw $950 in fines turn into $130. Now all I have to do is pay. Over to the other side of the office and wait on fairly long line, but not TOO bad. I read carefully my paying options on the posters. Credit cards, debit cards, money orders, checks, cash... all good. In fact, one window kept yelling "anybody paying by check, please step up !!" I waited, since I was paying w/ debit. I get to the window, plunk down the paperwork and my debit and license. The guy in the window says "Sorry, we don't take VISA anymore." I said, "It's a debit, not a credit card." He said, "Yeah, but it's a VISA, and we don't accept them." (Now I'm getting mad) I said angrily "The sign says you take debit. It doesn't say anything about VISA. Where does it say that you don't take VISA." He said, "It doesn't, but that's the rules." I ask where there's a cash machine, he says "Outside the building and across the street." He was nice enough to offer that I come back to him without waiting on the line. (oh, and BTW there would have been a $3 PER TICKET fee for using debit... even though they swipe it ONCE, and there's ONE transaction, they somehow multiply the fee per ticket.)

OK, across the street, a bank of the super fast Citi-bank machines save me $6 since they only hit me for the one $3 fee. Back to the building where the front doors are LOCKED !!! Inside the glass doors I see velvet rope across all doors, and a sign saying "building closes at 4:30. I check my watch and see it's 4:10. Steam is now pouring out of my ears... but luckily a stranger who works there says "Don't worry, last door on the left is still open until 4:30. Thank god, or I might be in jail right now !!!!!

Back upstairs, pay my fine, and get the hell out of there ASAP. Hopefully I will never darken their doorstep again !!!