Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Nazareth's Strange Parking Enforcement
Let me give you the facts about the ticket itself. Riccelli had parked his Shubert's bakery truck on Broad Street this winter, and thanks to the never-ending snow, it was stuck there. Riccelli claimed he was actually parked on the curb, but an unknown third party called to complain that the truck was too far out into the street, creating a traffic hazard.
Officer Fred Lahovski was assigned to take care of the matter, and used his certified tape measure to determine that the truck was parked too far into the street. He made attempts to contact Riccelli by phone, but was unsuccessful. So he wrote out a $30 ticket.
Riccelli, who has lived most of his life making Moravian sugar cakes, had never been cited for anything in his life, so this was a big deal to him. He complained to Lahovski several times, asking him to withdraw the ticket. He complained to Chief Trachta. He also complained to Mayor Strye.
Strye thought the whole thing was ridiculous. "If I had the authority to void the ticket, I would have voided the ticket," he testified. "Everybody was parking 12" from the street." But he never spoke to Officer Lahovski, the person who had actually issued the ticket. "I thought the Chief would do that," he explained.
The Chief refused to do anything. Relying on a policy that he himself admitted is on shaky legal ground, he contended that Riccelli had two options - pay the ticket or go to court. In several email exchanges with the Mayor, he refused to budge.
In the meantime, the ticket had disappeared. That apparently happened earlier in the winter, too, when a number of snow emergency tickets disappeared.
"You are aware that there's a problem with tickets disappearing in the police department, aren't you?" Lahovski asked Strye, even suggesting that Strye had ordered an investigation into the matter.
Judge Capobianco told Mayor Strye he did not have to answer the question, and he didn't.
"Are you a substitute for the courts?" Lahovski asked Strye. He agreed he is not
When the Chief found out about the missing ticket, he ordered Lahovski to charge Riccelli even though the 30-day statute of limitations had expired.
Lahovski disclosed this to Riccelli as part of his obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence, but all the confused baker could say is, "This stuff is going right over my head."
It was a case that involved Mayoral interference, a stubborn chief who was willing to ignore the statute of limitations for summary offenses, no explanation for how the ticket disappeared and a complete unwillingness by both Mayor and Chief to communicate with the citing officer.
It was a parking ticket case in which the real defendant was not the Schubert baker, but Nazareth Borough officials.
What makes this case even more interesting is to look at the summary appeals court, where people can appeal their convictions in magisterial district court. For the first time in 15 months, Nazareth actually had some cases on the May docket. The DA notified them to appear, but the Chief and Mayor decided not to bother spending the money to send an officer. As a result, several parking offenses were dismissed.