By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I am not a lawyer, although I have been admitted to many bars, but at the risk of being sentenced to life in prison for felonious stupidity, I decided to represent myself recently when I went to traffic court to fight a parking ticket.
I got it when I drove with my wife, Sue, and our younger daughter, Lauren, to the Port Jefferson train station near our house on Long Island for a trip to New York, N.Y., it’s a hell of a town, the city that never sleeps, a place where I could be king of the hill, top of the heap, and come back to find a $100 ticket on the windshield of my car.
The problem was that I couldn’t find a parking space at the train station, so I parked in an adjacent lot I thought was affiliated with the station. It wasn’t.
The Zezimas took Manhattan (and politely gave it back after spending considerably more than the original $24 selling price), then returned to find the parking ticket. About three weeks later, I got a piece of mail that read:
“Re: Vehicle plate number JZEE
“You are hereby ordered to appear for a conference at:
“PORT JEFFERSON VILLAGE COURT to determine the final disposition of the outstanding summons(es) issued to the above-mentioned vehicle plate number.
“Failure to appear will result in rendering a default judgment.”
Since it was not the fault of my judgment, rendering me innocent, I didn’t fail to appear in court at the mandated time of 7 p.m. Neither did about 100 other people, who were there for parking tickets, moving violations and various misdemeanors.
It was standing room only, so it was not asking too much for me to stand, which I was already doing, as the Hon. John F. Reilly entered the courtroom.
Judge Reilly, who was indeed honorable, opened the proceedings by explaining that defendants could either plead guilty or ask for a conference with the district attorney. This, he said, could result in a subsequent guilty plea with the possibility of a reduced fine or a trial to be held at a later date.
I imagined my case going all the way to the Supreme Court -- for a parking ticket.
My reverie was interrupted when Judge Reilly called my name.
“How do you plead?” he asked as I stood before him.
“Clueless, your honor,” I replied.
“Clueless is not an option,” Judge Reilly said. “You have to plead either guilty or not guilty.”
“Not guilty,” I said firmly.
I was instructed to sit down, if I could find a seat, and wait for my conference with the DA. About 10 minutes later, I was called over by Dara Martin, the village prosecutor, who also was honorable. I was about to explain why I was so clueless in my failure to notice signs in the parking lot next to the train station (it’s for a residential complex) when she said I had two parking tickets.
“The first is from 2006,” prosecutor Martin said, showing me the ticket. “It’s for a black Chevy Suburban and it has your plate number, JZEE.”
“My wife got me the plate because she said I had that name before Jay-Z,” I said, “but it was only three or four years ago. And I have never driven a black Chevy Suburban. I have a gold Hyundai Santa Fe.”
Since the ticket was six years old, the cost would have been in the hundreds of dollars, said prosecutor Martin, who tossed it out and asked me to explain the cluelessness that led to the second ticket.
“OK,” she said, going easy on me. “I’ll reduce it to $40 if you plead guilty.”
“Guilty as charged,” I said. “Now I don’t have to go to the Supreme Court.”
Copyright 2012 by Jerry Zezima