The instant that Michael Walters walked into Jersey City traffic court last month, the judge recognized him.
"It's nice to see you again, Mr. Walters," she said. "Could you please help me tell the people how the court operates?"
Walters faced the courtroom and gave the speech usually given by the judge, about the court's operations and ways in which people can present evidence supporting their case. After Walters briefly explained the court's procedures, the judge added that people can submit photographs, documentation, or visual aid in order to have their tickets dismissed.
Walters, a Jersey City resident, has been in traffic court almost a dozen times in less than four months. The night of June 20, Judge Pauline Sica dismissed another of Walters' traffic tickets.
She usually does.
The Jersey City Reporter first reported on Feb. 24 that Walters had received three tickets for parking illegally in front of his home on Prospect Street and Oakland Avenue. He had had them dismissed. One such ticket erroneously described his little Hyundai as a tractor-trailer.
The day after that Reporter article ran, Walters got another ticket - although that one was only reduced, since the judge found it fair, as Walters had parked next to a yellow curb. Since then, Walters has gotten five more tickets, and he's gone to court and won on all of them.
Walters said he feels it's unfair that other residents who might be too busy to go to court are probably getting unfair tickets and just paying them.
Blocking their own homes
Walters parks his car in front of his home on Prospect Street. He has lived there for more than half a year, and there are no signs saying it's prohibited to park there.
Since moving to his new home, Walters has received tickets with incorrect information such as the color and model of his car, the location where he parked, and the time. After every ticket, Walters takes a snapshot with a Polaroid camera. He brings the photographs to court as evidence to show Judge Sica.
The court's night sessions are busy. More than three dozen people sit in the small room at 6 p.m. waiting for the chance to explain to the judge why they think their tickets were issued without merit.
Walters is not the only resident claiming to get frivolous parking tickets. Will Krouslis, a resident of the Heights section of Jersey City, said during an interview outside of the courthouse that he gets tickets unfairly about once a month.
Krouslis' last ticket was issued to him for blocking his own driveway.
Previous tickets include parking in an illegal zone and blocking a sidewalk. They were dismissed as well.
"I was parked in front of my place and I come out and find a ticket. How does that make sense?" Krouslis said.
Melissa (last name withheld) has also been to court. Her parking ticket was dismissed after she provided proof that her car was not even in Jersey City during the time the ticket was issued.
Nevertheless, Jersey City Parking Authority (JCPA) Director Thomas Kane asserts that his department does not issue frivolous tickets. All the employees are trained to enforce the city's parking laws and to abide by the rules of Kane's current administration, he said. A retired deputy chief of the Jersey City Police Department, Kane has been director for less than three months.
"With my police background, I run the department my way or the highway," Kane said.
He agrees that if people feel their tickets are frivolous they should go to court and fight. After all, "that's the American way," he said.
Parking violation court meets Monday through Thursday at 6 p.m.
But what about the time it takes? Some would rather pay the fine than spend the time.
Look at the positive
Kane said that to his knowledge, about 95 percent of all tickets hold up in court. He said that just because a few residents complain about tickets, it does not mean that the JCPA is doing a bad job. On the contrary, Kane said, his department helps stop crime, elevate the quality of life, improve the standard of living for residents, and establish order on the streets. Without the work of the JCPA, residents and businesses would be hurt.
"We get thousands of calls every year from residents asking for our help," Kane said. "Some communities tell us we are not being strict enough to commuters."
Kane admits there will always be people upset because they find tickets on their windshield, but if they have a problem with it, they should go to court.
"We have reasonable enforcement. Parking is the number one quality of life issue that affects the entire population," he said.
Kane argues that instead of focusing on the few people who are upset with the department, the community should focus on the positive initiatives the JCPA is currently working on.
Kane's job is to create more parking in the city, and he is doing so by purchasing lots in densely populated areas in all of the city's sections. So far the city has acquired a lot on Central Avenue and another on Duncan Avenue.
City Court Director Martin Dolan agreed that only 5 percent of the parking violations issued each month by the city are dismissed in court.
But Walters argued that most residents do not go to court because they lack the time or knowledge of the system to do so.
"Residents see the court date and the amount of the violation on the ticket and just pay it," Walters said. "They probably don't think they can fight it in court."
Issues 30,000 tickets a month
Jersey City issues an average of approximately 30,000 parking tickets every month.
In January, 1,529 tickets were dismissed. Parking tickets are issued by police officers or the enforcers from the city's Parking Authority.
Parking tickets can be dismissed if the information on it is found to be incorrect, there is substantial evidence showing the ticket issued was wrong, or there are any other transposition errors, Dolan said.
The JCPA, in 1997, adapted New Jersey's computerized system for parking tickets. After a ticket is issued, the violation information goes directly into a computer database network in the city. There, the database keeps a file of the offense until the ticket is paid, Dolan said.
Before the electronic system, city officials had to write the ticket and later process it - a much longer method.
More than 75 percent of the tickets issued are for street sweeping violations ($16) and for parking in a prohibited area ($29), according to Dolan.
According to Kane, 105 full-time JCPA employees walk the streets of the city issuing parking tickets.
If a person fails to pay a ticket, a failure-to-appear in court notice is issued with a $10 penalty. After about a month, a third notice is issued with another $10. Eventually, if the person has yet to pay for the fine, a proposal for license suspension is issued.
After that, if the city has not heard from an individual, the Department of Motor Vehicle suspends the driver's license. Re-activating a license is $50 in New Jersey, Dolan said. But the person must, of course, pay the other accrued charges.
"People in Jersey City are not stupid," Dolan said. "They've gotten a lot better in paying."
During the last fiscal year, Jersey City collected $13,807,000 in parking violation fines, and $9,713,000 of that went to the city's operating budget, Dolan said.
The Parking Authority board holds a public meeting every third Tuesday of the month. They are located at 394 Central Ave. For more information, call (201) 653-6969.