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—Illustration by Ryan Snook

Talking Yourself Out Of A Ticket

The Denver parking magistrate’s office can reduce or even dismiss your traffic fine. But first you’ve got to make your case.

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On a scorching June day almost three years ago, I gave birth to my first daughter, Gwynn. Because she was born with jaundice, Gwynn and I spent the next five days inside Rose Medical Center. My waking hours consisted of rocking Gwynn, who was swaddled in a soft receiving blanket, and moving her back and forth from the tanning bed (that’s what it looked like, anyway) used to treat her condition. On the third day of Gwynn’s life, my husband, Lyle, headed to our LoHi home for some clean clothes. When he returned an hour later, I expected to still see that new-dad grin—but it was clear when he walked in that he wasn’t happy. Didn’t he just get to shower 72 hours of hospital stink off his body? And, ahem, wasn’t I the one who’d given birth just a few days earlier? What, exactly, did he have to be upset about?

Then I spotted the pale yellow envelope in his left hand. For a moment, my sleep-deprived brain thought it was a card for the baby—until Lyle flipped it over and I saw the word “VIOLATION.” He had received a ticket for parking against the flow of traffic on our side of the street. It was—I thought—a forgivable mistake born of his effort to get back to his wife and new daughter as quickly as possible. Surely someone would understand.

$30 million: Denver’s revenue from parking tickets last year

I decided to test my hypothesis. On the back of the ticket were instructions about how to dispute the violation at the Denver County Court Parking Magistrate’s Office downtown. So a few days before our fine was due, I marched into the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building with Gwynn, snugly fastened in her new car seat, on my forearm. I stood beneath the magistrate’s raised desk and told him our story. From his perch—and thanks to some strategic positioning—the magistrate couldn’t help but get a good glimpse of my adorable newborn. It didn’t (completely) work: The magistrate decreed a $10 discount on the $25 fine. (I should have brought along the hospital’s bill; its appraisal of Gwynn was a wee bit higher.)

Don’t know my pain? You will: With street-sweeping season beginning April 1, it’s likely some of you, dear readers, will soon join the 33,000 or so people who visit the magistrate’s office each year. About another 16,000 defend themselves online or by snail mail (that’s right, you can put your sob story in a letter). So I sought out Robb Cole, who’s been a magistrate for nine years, to find out the best way to talk oneself out of a ticket. Cole, like any good adjudicator, was cagey when we talked. He did tell me about a lady who got fined for leaving her car in the same spot for longer than 72 hours. At the magistrate’s office, she spun a story about a thief who had stolen her car, driven it to the mountains, and then parked it in the same spot from which he’d first lifted it. Just as Cole began to question her yarn, she handed over a police report that verified everything. Ticket dismissed.

My biggest victory wasn’t nearly so dramatic. We had recently surrendered our Wyoming plates for Colorado replacements, and my Cowboy State–raised husband had applied our registration stickers to the top corners of the plates (as one does in Wyoming) rather than the bottom, which is a $75 fine. I walked 13 blocks during lunch to see the magistrate, who cut the fine in half. You win some, you lose others, I guess. At least at the magistrate’s office, more than other places in city government, you have the satisfaction of feeling like you were heard. Next time, though, I’ll be sure to bring a doctor’s note.

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