Saturday, April 03, 2010

The law must be unambiguous and clear

Anyone towed by the 43rd Ward on Lincoln Avenue (or elsewhere) this weekend, based on the "notice" (I use the term loosely) shown, has a case if they wish to pursue it.

The two most central legal arguments in cases like this are: (1) ignorance of the law is not a defense, but (2) the law must be clear and unambiguous.

You can't say, "D-uh, I never heard of such a thing as towing cars, so therefore I'm not at fault." We are presumed to know the law, as convoluted as it is today. But, from the other side, the law (and the signs, which are law) must, must, must be crystal clear. If you can find any hint of an ambiguity, you have a case.

Let's set aside the woefully inadequate signage, these little slips of white cardboard wrapped around trees that pass as information. If someone misses one of these -- often, they're poorly posted, torn off, etc. -- then it's unlikely you're going to get sympathy from a hearing officer, who probably has a two-car garage.

But, in this case, they were towing cars Friday and Saturday night. The signs say, "NO PARKING -- APRIL 2 & APRIL 3 -- 9 p.m.-2:30 a.m." Now, what exactly does that mean? Is it just the evening of April 2 from 9 a.m. to April 3 at 2:30 a.m.? (They did, by the way, tow cars last night, April 2.) Well, that's how I read the sign when I saw it.

Or is it also tonight, from 9 to 2:30? (They are towing cars again tonight.) If you had your car towed Saturday night (April 3), it is understandable that you be annoyed by the confusion, and you have a solid legal argument, because it is utterly ambiguous.

The signs should read, "APRIL 2, 9 P.M.-APRIL 3, 2:30 A.M. AND APRIL 3, 9 P.M.-APRIL 4, 2:30 A.M." to satisfy a minimum call for clarity.

(I happen to be safely parked on the other side, so I'm not concerned about this for myself. My time too surely will come, so I'm being vigilant. Often, they post these things just a few hours before.)

I spoke to Rich Mahutsky, the 43rd Ward staffer managing this, and pointed out the ambiguity. "It's perfectly clear," he said. "There's nothing ambiguous about it, they're parked here illegally and they're being towed," and he turned around and continued to tow cars.

I've informed Alderman Daley about this problem, but, as is typical, I don't anticipate her taking any position or doing anything proactive to resolve it. Hey, it's just a few working people out a few hundred bucks, and deprived of one of their most valuable pieces of property for several days. Not enough to force her to feel any remorse. She makes over $100,000 a year, you see, and she has a two-car garage.

You can learn more about the nasty habits of the city's parking and towing complex, and techniques to protect yourself, from my longtime friend Parking Ticket Geek, at his site,


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