Parking tickets and gripes: Outtakes from a day spent with Denver's parking magistrates

Categories: News

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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.'"

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Well I would love to know who these people talked to in the magistrate office. My sticker was stolen from my car but I'm from California. I could not get my car off the streets because Cap Hill has NO off street parking. It took Cali DMV 2 months to get me my reprint and sticker. The magistrate wouldn't talk to me until they could see it in their hands. By the time I could get it to them all of the tickets had doubled in cost and what I thought were 8 tickets was really 12. Even though I had no control over the time frame, and I never received notice on the other 4 tickets, the magistrate ruled that he would take 600$ off the total, so basically the 4 mystery tickets, but the late fees, which I could do NOTHING about would stand for the other tickets. On top of that, he only offered this if I could pay the 1150$ on the spot. Absolutely ridiculous, this was entirely out of my control. I'm not saying I shouldn't pay anything, but I don't think it's fair to ask me to pay the late fees when there was nothing I could do about the situation, I feel like they set me up.

Larry D Heck
Larry D Heck

I got one of those tow away zone tickets last night just like the 26y old guy did except I didn't drink alcohol and left to go home at 11pm. Turns out last April they started tow away after 10pm during the week for street sweeping through November.  This is a great example of how they keep changing the rules to steal money. I have a fix I'm going to do personally that doesn't require a class action lawsuit although I would love to see one happen. I'm going to give them my $50 with a smile. Then never go to downtown Denver EVER again. Instead spend my money at no meter parking friendly places. If everyone starts doing what I'm doing. Then Denver will suffer when nobody goes to or spends money there anymore. I will end by hoping Denver's rip off system fails someday because this liberal way of doings things is wrong.

Robert Chase
Robert Chase

Excuse me, but what I want to hear about with respect to Denver's rapacious parking revenue program is what is being done to bring it within the Law.  The overnight parking scam merits a class-action suit against Denver -- is anyone taking legal action against this scam?

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Interesting, Larry. Thanks for sharing your experiences.


Sounds like you ought to be the first to take the initiative.  

Robert Chase
Robert Chase

I have not been a victim of the overnight parking scam, but many other people have.

Robert Chase
Robert Chase

I believe that you are correct about the City, and what an individual does in response is his or her own business, but I believe that real citizens should object, and would I hope that one of many people victimized by this official scam would sue, because that appears to be the only way to get our City to take responsiibility for its actions


Seems to me that the city has it figured out.  They can do what they want because no one is bothered enough by a ticket to actually put in the time and money to set up a class action.  Myself included.

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