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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Panto's "Civil" Enforcement of Parking Tickets Is Problematic

Easton City Solicitor Bill Murphy
In the face of growing scrutiny of his bizarre parking ticket methods, Easton Mayor Sal Panto called a news conference this afternoon to explain the process. Though I received no invitation, I crashed the party anyway. Fortunately, no one shooed me away. In addition to Hizzoner, Team Panto consisted of Solicitor Bill Murphy, Administrator Glenn Steckman and three high-ranking police officers, Over the course of an hour, they all took turns explaining that the violation notices issued in Easton are now civil, and not criminal, matters. Hence, the City has no obligation to comply with the Pennsylvania's Supreme Court's admonition that no penalty may be imposed for a parking violation that is based solely on a ticket. But they all had a difficult time explaining how they can unilaterally decide to penalize someone financially or with a boot when there's been no prior determination of responsibility.

Sal Panto
The civil system presumes you are guilty. - Lt. Matthew Lohenitz stated that "the onus is on the driver or vehicle owner to contact us and ask us" if he wants a review. So the presumption of innocence that pertains in criminal matters is stood on its head in this supposed civil process that is administered by cops. You are presumed guilty, and it is up to you to complain if you want a second look. It is unclear to me that city officials can penalize someone, even civillym, based solely on a ticket

The notice is inadequate. -  All City officials agree that the notice on parking tickets, which  inaccurately advise drivers or owners that they are subject to citation for failure to respond, needs a bit of work. Solicitor Bill Murphy conceded that the word "appeal" appears nowhere. They all stated that the notice is being revised, and will ask District Attorney John Morganelli for his assistance. "That means a lot to me," said Chief Carl Scalzo.

"We are law enforcement officers," stated Chief Carls Scalzo."We are not legislators."

They're also not judges but are playing that role.    

The cops play judge. - The review process is flawed. City officials bragged that there's a 5-step appeal process, but every person in that appeal process in a cop or parking enforcement officer. That's no independent or neutral review. A cop decides if another cop got it right. In fact, the first step in the appeal process is to the officer who wrote the ticket.

City officials pointed out that roughly ten percent of the tickets written last year were forgiven, and that is the pattern being seen this year as well. They cited this as proof that people know they can call and complain about their tickets and get a fair review. I believe these officers. But the potential for mischief is there.

Potential for political favoritism exists. - Though he did so inadvertently, Panto explained precisely how this appeals process can be corrupted so that it caters to political favorites. He stated he is approached frequently about tickets and went into detail about one woman going through a divorce who had her car booted in an effort to show how compassionate city officials are with people who have financial hardships. He stated he sent her to Lt. Lohenitz, but then quickly added he has no idea what happened in her case.

I believe that when the Lt. Lohenitz gets a referral from the Mayor, there's an unspoken message to go easy. This 5-step appeal process in which cops judge other cops and Mayors make referrals, could easily be perverted  into a system in which the ten per cent of tickets that are dismissed are for the politically connected.

I will say that, based on prior interactions with Lt. Lohenitz and Chief Carl Scalzo, I believe they would rather be fired than play that game. And though Panto has pretty much bungled this entire parking fiasco, even I don't believe he would try to fix a ticket. But he won't be Mayor forever. And good police officers like Scalzo or Lohenitz are like comets streaking across the sky. They're gone before you know they were there.

Panto stated that the Easton Parking Authority might also be tasked to handle ticket appeals. That would remove the police, but not the politics.

Is Panto's Motive to Help Citizens or Is it Greed? - Panto and Lt Lohenitz explained that decriminalizing parking tickets is a benefit to the citizen. Lohentiz explained that no one should be embarrassed at work by a constable with a warrant for a parking ticket. Panto correctly noted that the fines are much lower than they would be in the criminal arena.

But it is Panto who told The Express Times, "We are now collecting our own tickets because the city that generates the tickets should be getting those revenues, not the courts." 

According to City Administrator Glenn Steckman, Easton "collected" (he insisted on using that word) about $650,000 from parking tickets last year. Thirty-nine cars were booted. Eight were eventually towed away.Lt. Lohenitz initially stated that no car was sold, but later admitted that he does not know what happened and that's between the owner and Easton Auto Body. He did indicate that he believes most of the cars towed had been abandoned.

What's next? - District Attorney John Morganelli is reviewing this matter. I believe the argument can be made that this is an unlawful criminal proceeding dressed as a civil matter.

One problem Easton has is that it is still assessing penalties without any basis other than the ticket itself. Officials call this a civil matter, but there is no underlying civil proceeding. Another problem is that, once a ticket is ignored, officials notify the owners in writing that they owe money. To do that, they must get the registration information for the ticketed vehicle. I believe (I may be mistaken) that police officers have no right to access that information unless they are conducting a criminal investigation.

Given that people can have their cars booted and towed away, it's hard to escsape the conclusion that this is a criminal matter disguised as a civil matter so that Easton does not have to play by the rules.


Anonymous said...

The thing that blows my mind, is that everyone knows that this is wrong, maybe even Panto. But he is not budging. Part of be a good elected civil servant is not so much prudence for your city and constituents but the ability to work out a fair and equitable solution for everyone. Fairness. Checks and balances. Give and take.

In this case, it is all one-sided. And everyone loses instead of coming to an agreeable solution.

If you are in politics, you are there for one of two reasons: on a power trip or you love to serve people. You can't do both.

You can't tell me that this is about ignorance of the law. If so, shame on Panto. He has all the resources at his finger tips to have had this checked out before hand. This is about greed and lack of compassion for his fellow citizens.

In trying to booster his reputation and show that he is taking names and kicking butts, he made himself, the Parking Authority, the Police Department, and the local businesses, and the entire City of Easton more of a joke.

His reputation is pretty solidified now. What an asshole!

Anonymous said...

Panto is full of shit. I was at EPD about a month ago looking into something for a client. I saw an acquaintance in the lobby who was trying to appeal a ticket. I also happened to have had a ticket from the parking Nazis I had to pay but I really didn't care that much at the time.

The acquaintance had recurring tickets based off of the city's new posting on her street of a no parking zone during certain hours for street sweepers or some other nonsense.

I was curious about the new system because it didn't make sense to me so I asked the parking secretary how the appeals were handled. The conversation went as follows, and I'm paraphrasing:

Me: How does one appeal a ticket outside of this funny written statement process?

Secretary: Well you write the statement and then it goes the the Lt.

Me: A police Lt. or a parking Lt. or what?

Secretary: A parking Lt. I think.

Me: And if I'm still not happy, then what?

Secretary: A police Lt. I guess.

Me: Ok, so what about a judge or someone other than a person wearing those fancy blue uniforms?

Secretary: Pretty sure thats it, nothing else.

Me: and you think that's acceptable?

Secretary: They pay me not to think.

Anonymous said...

12:50 continued: They also did not have a written policy at the time other than the file the written statement nonsense.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I went thru a dispute myself in 2012. The Lt denied my appeal, so I went to court and won.

Anonymous said...

When do the merchants say enough.
He's killing business.

Anonymous said...

He is the next county executive, right Bernie.

Anonymous said...

Easton's merchants need to pay for their master's misdeeds. Boycott Easton until they throw their punk out of office. Money talks.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"He is the next county executive, right Bernie."

I think he better worry about getting re-elected first. I liked Panto in his first term. he was real. His message was simple - clean and safe. He did start turning the City around.

In his second term, he began believing all the praise heaped on him by admirers and fair-weather friends. he began straying from his simple message. He wandered away especially from security.

Then I learned about a blatant conflict of interest going on right under his nose, involving developer Mulligan and a Redevelopment Authority employee in a side biz. Though I was correct and I understand that certain monies that had been distributed by the City had to be returned, Panto publicly pretended that everything is fine.

The ET was afraid to cover the story bc, as we all now know, they will soon be Mulligan's tenant.

Easton is no longer headed in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

There's a scene in "Hurry Sundown" where the judge in a Southern town tells a black defendant that he doesn't need a lawyer because "This cawt will be your loiyah." Life imitates art in Easton.

Easton officials make it sound like district justices only handle criminal issues. They don't; they handle civil matters as well. And who cares what a parking ticket is called? Civil or criminal violation, you have to give due process and that means asking someone to decide who doesn't have a vested, financial interest in accusing you of a violation.

What is it about Pennsylvania and parking? Easton creates its own kangaroo court system for parking tickets. Philadelphia parking judges get arrested by the FBI. The Philadelphia Parking Authority gets taken over the the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Anonymous said...

although i disagree with the appeals process for tickets in easton, at least the cost is less than other cities. I may have once forgotten to pay a ticket in Bethlehem and got citation. that little $15 ticket turned into $135. At least in Easton, based on the morganelli post, the max is $45.

Anonymous said...

They should start a new show called "Easton Greed" instead of "American Greed". Lets call it what it is...Mayor Panzie is greedy and looking for anyway to tax the citizen's of Easton as well as surrounding communities wheather it be legal or illegal, he doesn't care.

The Stranger said...

I would just like to say, this is an utter joke!!! King Sal Panto thinks he is the ruler of the Kingdom 18042, and therefor can do as he sees fit. You know how right wing pundits like to scream Obama is a Kenyan-Muslim-King-Dictator???

Well, Sal is a Eastonian King/Dictator. He thinks he has Über authority over the entire legal system. (Has his highness not heard of "separation of powers"?) He is superseding the judicial branch. Which is questionable how it could be legal in the Commonwealth's Constitution (Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania).

The city is supposed to hand over the unpaid complaints to the MDJ of jurisdiction for that part of the city. Then the court issues the warrants for it to have people either pay or appear before the MDJ to fight it.

The MDJ, not King Sal, pick WHO gets those warrants. Which SHOULD BE the state constable(s) of choice of the MDJ. See, the constable is paid per case, not per hour. And, the defendant is supposed to pay to cover the $27.50 per docket (plus mileage if any) when they put their money up even for a defense as part of their legal fees as per state law (Constables policies, procedures, and standards of conduct. 2013.).

But yet, King Sal seems to think he has more authority than both the judicial branch and the executive branch, which is where constables fall under (IN RE ACT 147 of 1990. 1991).

As for King Sal's first term (of the most recent reign not to count his first go decades before), his entire campaign's talking points were plagiarized from the former Easton Undressed blog. The city basically voted for the firefighter who ran that page as it was his work and vision King Sal stole.

IN RE ACT 147 of 1990 (1991). Pennsylvania State Supreme Court. Retrieved Feb. 12, 2015, from https://casetext.com/case/in-re-act-147-of

Constables polices, procedures, and Standards of conduct. (2013). Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Retrieved Feb. 12, 2015, from https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCAQFjAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.portal.state.pa.us%2Fportal%2Fserver.pt%2Fdocument%2F1337555%2Fnew_supreme_court_rules_for_constables_5-29-13_pdf&ei=xfTcVMXVMqrnsATgmYKQBw&usg=AFQjCNEg19ecJS2zddy-QwpgkN3BZ4DzAA&sig2=D_qdmRzszMSJLr9sLMjyXQ&bvm=bv.85761416,d.cWc

Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (2015). Retrieved Feb. 12, 2015, from http://sites.state.pa.us/PA_Constitution.html

Anonymous said...

As a Constable I can tell you where those cars go....Easton Auto Body...after they are NOT claimed by the owner the City of Easton Files an abandonment of a vehicle citation at District Court 03-2-12 for the owner. By then I assume the cars are sold to whom I don't know but the owner is on the hook for a citation with fines and costs of over $700 in most cases. I know because I serve these warrants regarding such.

In my honest opinion the people being ticketed and their car's towed aren't getting a fair shake anywhere and from anyone EXCEPT.. Judge Yetter who hears these cases and tries to impress upon the parties to make a resolution that is fair to everyone.

Listen we aren't going to do away with parking tickets, they are here to stay unfortunately. No one likes to get them and no one likes to pay them. I like that the parking tickets are decriminalized as the Mayor puts it...BUT I do NOT like that the people are being violated and don't have the ability to be heard fairly in front of a Judge like Rick Yetter and have their day in court.

I don't know what the resolution to this is but it needs to follow the law.

Fred Schoenberger
State Constable
Wilson Borough

Anonymous said...

"Fuck You O'Hare" is what Sal has been thinking for the last 36 hours. Everything he says ends with a "Fuck You O'Hare".

Bernie O'Hare said...

Thanks Fred for the poignant response.

Anonymous said...

I blame Sal for giving the planning commission Becky Bradley. I sit on the board and she has been a nightmare we all can't wake up from.

Anonymous said...

First this guy does the old taxation without representation bit, and now due process with a little illegal search (not so much search) and seizure (so much for the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution). Invites illegals to come to Easton (immigration laws), and wants to give them licenses. Guess you don't really need to understand the law, history, principles or immigration to be the mayor of Easton. But hey more cars from illegals driving mean more tickets to give tickets to write.....

Anonymous said...

This is GREED ! Panto is even taking money out of employee's pay for not living in Easton but working in Easton. How much $$$$ does this man want and need ???? This City would can't be that bad, raise a tax once and while. Everyone else does.

local said...

Precisely why I NEVER spend my money in Easton. I won't even go there.

Terrance Hand said...

"Clean & Safe"
Anyone that wants to promote clean and safe will have my support.

I'd much rather live in peace than take credit for a message.