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|Santa Monica, Parking Ticket Plaintiffs Headed to Court|
By Jorge Casuso
June 29, 2012 -- Santa Monica is headed to court after the City Council voted in closed session Tuesday to end settlement negotiations in a lawsuit charging that the City failed to explain why appeals of parking citations are denied.
The vote comes four months after plaintiffs Stanley and Harriet P. Epstein rejected a settlement agreement approved by the council February 28 that paid the Epsteins and the couple's attorney $65,000 from the City and $12,500 from ACS, its parking contractor.
At the time, the Epsteins -- who would have received $12,500 after legal costs -- said that the council had jumped the gun by settling before "at least a dozen major issues" were worked out.
On Tuesday Harriet Epstein told the council that its decision not to settle would do nothing to address the 20,000 motorists who also received "illegal" form letters denying them a chance to appeal their tickets.
"I won't speculate as to why your staff wants to torpedo a year's worth of work at the llth hour, but it certainly isn't to benefit the public," Epstein said, adding that the settlement was "about 97 percent complete."
"We have no qualms in going to trial," Epstein said. "Since the state law is so clear, we are confident we will win and the court will award no less than what's in the negotiated settlement."
The Epsteins filed the suit after Harriett was issued a $64 citation in February 2011 when she left her car at a park to run errands. The plaintiffs charged the City was violating a 2009 amendment to the California Motor Vehicle Code that requires an explanation when a contested citation is ruled valid.
Shortly before the suit was filed, City officials announced they had changed Santa Monica's policy after receiving a number of complaints that letters from the City do not tell appellants why their challenge has been turned down, only that they have to pay the ticket.
“Although the letters provide the minimum information required by law, the City believes that providing additional details with these letters would improve customer service,” City police and finance officials stated.
City officials said that the enhanced letters were part of a year-long effort at City Hall to review and improve the way Santa Monica’s parking citations and parking permits are handled.
The Epstein's contend that the City continued to send two "illegal" letters to ticketed motorists and agreed after a citizen complained to "give legal protection" to an addition 10,000 drivers, bringing the total to more than 20,000.
"The City's withdrawal from settlement talks now mean the case will go towards a court hearing and decision in November," the plaintiffs wrote in a press release issued last Friday.
"Instead of admitting that it has made mistakes in handling parking tickets, and making appropriate amends to affected motorists as provided in the proposed settlement agreement, the City has wasted a lot of time and taxpayer money," the plaintiffs said.
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