If you ask most Angelenos for a list of grievances against their fair city, parking tickets probably would rank near the top on most of them. Often costing us $63 or more, these citations are a big money maker for City Hall, yet they offer little opportunity in the way of due process.
In fact, that's what a California appellate court said this week when it ruled that the city of Los Angeles can't use a private contractor to achieve justice. The Second District Court of Appeal said in a published ruling that the city can't outsource its initial review of traffic tickets to a private contractor, in this case Xerox.
The appeals court ruling upholds a decision reached last month by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge in a case involving a motorist who challenged a $55 parking ticket issued in March 2012. Cody Weiss had parked on La Jolla Avenue, which runs from South Carthay to Beverly Grove, and the citation alleged his vehicle overstayed a two-hour limit. He challenged the citation, but it was dismissed by Xerox, the document technology giant that Los Angeles uses to process parking tickets. Weiss's attorney, Caleb Marker, argued that Xerox has "summarily denied motorists' initial challenges to parking tickets" while the city cashed in. Over a two-year period, Los Angeles took in $335 million — nearly 3 percent of its budget — Weiss' suit argued.
In its ruling, the court put an end to that practice, declaring that the city is now "required to conduct the initial review, and cannot contract with Xerox to perform that duty," the court ruled, adding that the company was "a vendor that earned a profit per ticket paid and was also paid to conduct administrative hearings."
"It had an inherent conflict of interest," the court stated.
Marker said the ruling "set a precedent."
The court also upheld Weiss' attorney's fees of $722,000 — he paid his ticket before challenging it further, so the actual citation wasn't in play.
The ruling upholds a state law that requires the "issuing agency," in this case the city of Los Angeles, and not the "processing agency," Xerox, to make the initial review.
"The Legislature has decreed, in effect, that Xerox has no power to conduct the review at all," the court stated. "Public policy favors the city’s review of parking citations. The trial court reasoned that the city (which has constituents) is more accountable than is a private entity like Xerox."
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Ticket recipients can ask for further reviews, an administrative hearing and a "de novo" appeal to L.A. Superior Court, the appeals panel said. But "given the burden of mounting a challenge to the initial review procedure, it was unlikely an individual motorist would do so," the ruling states.
"Drivers across California should demand that their elected officials follow the law and end their illegal parking contracts with Xerox and other for-profit companies," Marker said.
Marker adds that it is possible the city will appeal to the California Supreme Court. "They've taken a real hard line on this," he said.
"We will be reviewing our appellate options," said City Attorney's spokesman Rob Wilcox. We reached out to Xerox but did not hear back.