Plenty of Chicagoans contest their parking tickets by mailing a letter of protest to the Department of Revenue. Others go so far as to demand a hearing before a city administrative law officer. In rarer instances people take the fight all the way to court.
But attorney Mark Weinberg is taking an unusual approach to contesting a $60 ticket he received earlier this year: he's making a constitutional case out of it.
Weinberg is suing the city, claiming that his constitutional right to due process was violated when he was slapped with a ticket for parking on a downtown street at a time he thought it was allowed.
If he wins, he hopes he'll not only force the city to void his ticket and pay his legal fees—money that would go to him, as he's representing himself—but also to clarify its policies on when exactly parking infractions occur during restricted hours.
- Mark Weinberg
If he loses, well, so it goes. "I'm fighting the only way I know how," Weinberg says, "which is to sue the fuckers."
He's not kidding about the suing part. In the last 20 or so years, Weinberg has filed at least eight suits against the city. In 2001, for instance, he sued on behalf of hundreds of people who'd been arrested for panhandling on the public way. He won that one.
There was his 2003 federal class-action suit on behalf of people who'd been "unreasonably detained," as he puts it, after arrests for "quality of life infractions" like public urination. A federal court ruled in his favor in 2008 and the city appealed. It's now pending before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
And then there's his best-known case, when he took on the city to uphold his right to sell Career Misconduct, his very critical book about former Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz, on the sidewalks outside the United Center. The city said he was violating an anti-peddling ordinance, and a federal district court judge agreed. But the appellate court sided with Weinberg, and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, giving Weinberg the win.
In his latest suit Weinberg may actually have the broader public on his side, since the city's parking ticket policies are arguably less popular than lawyers who file lawsuits on behalf of people who piss in the street.
Weinberg claims that on March 4 he parked his car at Ohio and Wabash and put $2.70 into the pay box, which according to his receipt should have covered him until 4 PM.
When he returned to his car right about 4, he says, he discovered that a ticket writer had already nailed him for violating the 4 to 6 PM ban on parking on Ohio. The time on the ticket was 4 PM.
As Weinberg tells the story, the ticket writer was still on the block, so Weinberg caught up with her and pointed out that he couldn't have violated the law because his pay box receipt said he could park until 4 yet the ticket had been written at 4.
The ticket writer was insistent that the parking ban took effect at 4.
Weiberg pointed to the receipt and argued that he couldn't be ticketed until after that time—for instance, 4:01.
The ticket writer reiterated that the city's policy is to ticket at 4.
Weinberg insisted that the policy conflicts with what his receipt said, meaning the city's policies are inconsistent.
She laughed at him and called him a "whiner."
Weinberg appealed the ticket, sending a letter to the city's Department of Revenue on March 8. "I should not get a ticket at 4 after I paid to park until 4," he wrote. "Case closed."
But while he was on the subject, he took the opportunity to give that ticket writer a piece of his mind. "On top of it all, when I complained to the parking aid[e] about the ticket, the parking aid[e] just laughed at me and called me a 'whiner,'" he wrote. "The whole incident was upsetting and is cause for her to be fired. She is clearly writing tickets without any regard for the facts. At the very least the matter should be investigated to determine if she is routinely writing tickets before the time on people's tickets has expired."
On May 8 the city sent him a letter notifying him that his appeal had been dismissed and that it was time to pay up.
That's when Weinberg sued. "The decision is not in accordance with due process of law," he argues in his complaint, filed on June 11 in Cook County Circuit Court. "Plaintiff attempted to establish that the ticket was issued in violation of his due process rights in that he had lawfully paid to park on the city street until 4 PM. But he was nonetheless issued a ticket at exactly 4 PM.
"Plaintiff's ticket was issued unconstitutionally in violation of his due process rights under the United States Constitution because the City has a policy and practice of issuing tickets to automobiles parked on the street during rush hour at exactly 4 PM even though the person has paid to park until 4."
Look, I asked Weinberg, I hate parking tickets as much as the next guy. But how exactly is this a constitutional issue?
Weinberg argues that the city's unclear—if not contradictory—regulations about when it's illegal to park are a violation of his due process rights guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. "A regulatory practice—like parking laws—cannot be unreasonable," says Weinberg. "By definition it is unreasonable to have two conflicting [policies]. It puts citizens in the position where they have to guess which [policy] to trust. The city's endorsed a system citizens can't trust. They're using their parking laws to bring in more revenue. Their hunger for revenue trumps the reasonableness of their ticket practice."
Jennifer Hoyle, spokeswoman for the city's law department, said she hadn't seen the suit and couldn't comment until she had.
The whole thing makes me miss the great Judge Eugene Pincham, who passed away in 2008. For years Pincham waged an uphill legal battle against the city's residents-only parking ordinances. He said it was blatantly unconstitutional for the city to turn a public street into a private one by restricting parking to people who lived on that particular street. When he got going, man, Judge Pincham could make the fight against resident-only parking sound as noble as the battle against segregation faced by civil rights marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus bridge.
Alas, Pincham lost his suit.
Weinberg, though, not only thinks he can prevail, but is looking for others to join his crusade. "I'd like to make this a class-action suit, so anyone else who's in a similar situation should contact me," he says. "The city's giving us the finger. Let's give it to them back."v
Ben Joravsky discusses his reporting weekly with journalist Dave Glowacz at mrradio.org/theworks.