Parking tickets and gripes: Outtakes from a day spent with Denver's parking magistrates
This week's cover story, "Feed Me," tells the saga of the city's new overnight parking program -- which some users, such as 27-year-old Tyler Wyckoff, say is confusing. Wyckoff is one of several people who have visited the Denver County Court Parking Magistrate's Office to dispute a ticket. But overnight parking complaints aren't the only gripes the magistrates hear.
Westword recently spent four hours at the parking magistrate's office, listening in (with citizens' permission) as a parade of alleged scofflaws pleaded their cases in front of one of Denver's five parking magistrates. The magistrates aren't judges but city employees blessed with the magical power to reduce or dismiss parking tickets at their discretion. And they hear a lot more than stories about parking tickets gone awry.
Here are some outtakes from the day:
Elderly man, ticketed for expired registration
The old man is so short, he can barely see over the high counter where the magistrate sits. He wears suspenders, leans on a cane and scowls upward at her. She peers down.
"I've got a ticket here that damn near ruined my marriage!" he says.
His wife's car was ticketed for having expired plates, he says, but the whole thing is his fault. Like a dutiful husband, he went to the DMV to pick up her new stickers before her old ones expired. But he put them on his truck by mistake -- leaving her to get a ticket.
The magistrate, like the old man, is serious when she responds. She says she understands he made a mistake, but state law requires proper vehicle registration be displayed at all times. Then she softens. "We hope this didn't ruin your marriage," she says.
The old man smiles. "My marriage is on the mend," he says.
Because it was a mistake, the magistrate reduces the man's ticket from $75 to $25. He shifts his weight on his cane and tries to strike a bargain.
"How about $15?" he asks.
"The court's offer is $25," the magistrate says.
"I'm pushing my luck," he says. He winks, thanks her and leaves to pay his debt.
Middle-aged woman, ticketed for parking in a tow-away zone
The woman is flustered as she heads in to see the magistrate, her flip-flops making a thump-thump sound in the otherwise silent office. She's armed with a bundle of receipts, on top of which is a ticket. She hurriedly spills the bad-luck story of how she got it.
It started with a flat tire, the woman says. When she realized her tire was flat, she pulled over to the side of the road. "I didn't see any signs because I was like, 'Flat tire!" she says. To add insult to injury, her cell phone was dead, so she ran into a nearby building to call AAA. When she returned to her car, it had been ticketed for parking in a tow-away zone.
She plunks her documents on top of the high counter and invites the magistrate to look at her paperwork from AAA and the receipt from the new tire she bought.
The magistrate first explains why she received the ticket, a reality the woman is already familiar with. Then he cuts her a break. "You obviously cannot drive around on a busted tire for too long," he says. He reduces her ticket to $15.
The woman's nervousness melts away. "Thank you for making my day!" she says.
26-year-old man, ticketed for parking at an expired meter after 10 p.m.
The man and his girlfriend whisper and giggle in the quiet waiting room as the other ticket-holders, most of whom have come alone, stare silently ahead or diddle their cell phones. When the man's number is called to see a magistrate, he turns to a reporter (me!) who's there collecting stories of overnight parking tickets.
"No media," he says, waving his hands as he's if rejecting the paparazzi. Then he gestures to his giggle partner. "But she'll talk to you." His girlfriend seems excited to explain. "He's got one!" she says, referring to an overnight parking ticket.
It happened a few weeks ago, she says, when her boyfriend headed downtown to meet some friends at a club. He arrived before 10 p.m. and parked at a meter. After reading the meter's stickers -- which he interpreted to mean that payment was required until 10 p.m. and free afterward -- he fed the meter enough money to cover him until 10.
He proceeded to get drunk and caught a ride home with a friend, she says. When he returned the next morning to pick up his car, he found he'd gotten a ticket at 1:32 a.m. for failing to pay for overnight parking.
"He just wanted to pay it, but I was like, 'No! We'll fight this!'" the woman says. She adds that she's particularly "pissed" because the two rarely go out anymore. How are they supposed to know the new rules? she asks. "I mean, we're old now," she says. "We're 26. It's not like we're 21 anymore and we go out and stay out all night."
A few minutes later, her boyfriend emerges and heads to the cashier's counter across the lobby. The woman hurries over to find out what happened. When she returns, she's elated. "It got dismissed!" she says and runs off before the reporter can explain that well, um, judging by her boyfriend's appearance at the cashier's counter, maybe it didn't.
More from our Follow That Story archives: "Occupy Denver: Corey Donahue says sexual conduct arrest is 'bad nut-tap joke gone wrong.'"