overdue ticket hell
March 21, 2006 12:47 PM   Subscribe

Help me keep my fiance out of jail... Overdue parking ticket hell.

She's currently in Turkey over spring break doing research, and I will be picking her up from the airport Sunday night. I've been staying in her apartment the last few days pending the start of my own spring break plans, and found a notice for overdue parking tickets from this January while cleaning the place. She's been seeing a judge every month regarding a group of unpaid tickets, and I know that they had a deal worked out where she would check in monthly until she could get them paid. However, this looked like a different group of tickets, and they were due to be paid tomorrow under threat of a warrant being issued, so I stopped by the municipal court to make sure that things were squared away. Then the fun started.

She has over $500 worth of unpaid parking tickets in several clusters. Apparently she had a meeting scheduled with a judge the day she left for Turkey, which she did not make, and at that point a bench warrant was issued for her arrest. The clerk I talked to said that she either has to pay the full sum of the tickets or she will be jailed.

Right now I'm thinking of trying to talk to a judge to arrange another meeting for her and get the warrant lifted, paying as much of the outstanding sum (about $200) as I can as an incentive for them to give her some more time. I understand nothing about this situation, though. How long would they actually keep her in jail? She's in the middle of a tough semester and I doubt that she can afford to lose even one day from a school week. Am I actually going to be able to get anything done for her? It seems like the court should care less who pays the tickets as long as they are paid, but perhaps I am not legally allowed to take care of this for her. Will the police actually come looking for her at her apartment, or is this warrant more of a threat to induce her to pay?

Hopefully I've framed the situation adequately, because I 'm hitting the road soon and will not have internet access until later tonight. Please ask for elaboration if necessary and I will provide it when I'm able. Oh, this is in Lawrence, KS. I'll be able to return to Lawrence before the week is out to resolve the situation if I have to.

Hmmm... I think the reason she accumulated all these tickets in the first place is that one of her majors is journalism, she's always on a tight schedule, and she probably parked illegally numerous times to make interviews on time. And then she didn't pay the original tickets so the penalty increased. I'm not sure how far back the tickets go, but it may be up to half a year. Obviously, she can't do this anymore. I know that she hasn't gotten any in the past two months. I may or may not have contact with her via email before she returns. I already sent her an email letting her know about the situation. I'm terrified for her and feel that I need to do something.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... to Law & Government (32 answers total)
Regarding the bench warrant -- will she be flagged at U.S. Customs when returning to the States -- or is that info not available on the USCIS computers?
posted by ericb at 12:57 PM on March 21, 2006

When she reenters the country from Turkey, it's possible the warrant may pop up when they run her passport.
posted by jessica at 12:57 PM on March 21, 2006

This is the time you would want to seek a consultation from a traffic lawyer to make sure she doesn't go to jail. I get tickets in Lawrence and I try to avoid it, I've come to the assumption that any parking lot or space in the city that's not directly attached to a commercial establishment will get ticketed for some reason.

But I would definitely talk to a lawyer, I can't imagine this being much of a problem in Lawrence, both liberal and full of a bunch of college kids. You should be able to avoid jail time or anything stupid as long as you try to play the game and don't skip off to Turkey. I've heard of judges structuring payment plans and you might be able to get an attorney to appear in her absence but her not being around hurts.

Then again, it's not that much cash. Push comes to shove can't you take out a student loan to cover this? Beats going to court, but I don't know if I'd trust a girlfriend who can't pay back tickets with the threat of jail time paying back a loan I took out.
posted by geoff. at 12:59 PM on March 21, 2006

Regarding the bench warrant -- will she be flagged at U.S. Customs when returning to the States -- or is that info not available on the USCIS computers?

I'm pretty sure the information will show up, but I'm not sure they'll actually arrest her over a bench warrent.
posted by delmoi at 12:59 PM on March 21, 2006

This type of arrest warrant is not (usually) actively enforced - they won't come looking.

What it is is passively enforced - the next time she encounters the cops for any reason, they're going to arrest her and hold her until she can see that judge.

The easiest way to make this all go away is to pay off the stupid tickets, and stop acquiring more. Just do it, even if it means doing something fiscally irresponsible like taking out a cash advance on a credit card. Better to owe the credit card people than have the cops knocking down your door.

Perhaps there's a parent around who can make you a short-term loan?

I mean, you can keep trying to talk to the judge, but her blowing off a previously set up deal is not going to make things any easier. She's shooting herself in the foot. All the AskMeFi advice in the world won't help if that behavior continues.
posted by jellicle at 1:04 PM on March 21, 2006

A lot of Universities have a "short-term loan" thing that they offer to their students experiencing dire financial straits. You might look into whether the U of K does as well.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:10 PM on March 21, 2006

The 'journalism major' excuse is completely bogus. I was a journalist throughout the nineties and I got less than a dozen tickets in a decade. Leaving time to find a place to park (and asking the interviewee for advice beforehand) is part of the job.

This is going to sound horribly harsh but I'd let her deal with it. Confronting the consequences of your own actions is the surest way to change behavior. Cleaning up someone else's mess is not.

You say you 'know' she hasn't gotten any in the past two months but do you really 'know'?

I doubt very much that you will get a warrant lifted by turning up and trying to reschedule a meeting, since she blew out the original meeting.

Time to face the music.
posted by unSane at 1:22 PM on March 21, 2006

You can't talk to the judge for her. That's called Unauthorized Practice of Law.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:30 PM on March 21, 2006

Tell her to quit being so irresponsible. Really, that's what it boils down to. If you don't park like a turkey, you won't get tickets. And if you do get tickets, pay them in a timely manner. It's pretty simple.

That being said, a bench warrant for unpaid parking tickets is highly unlikely to get her tossed in jail upon returning to the US. In many places, it takes a bit of time to get into the system anyway.
But since she now has what amounts to a "Failure to Appear" against her, things might be a bit different. Still, it's not an immediate process. The time between the warrant being issued and her passport being flagged probably won't elapse between now and Sunday night.

Seriously though, it sounds like she has some serious issues with responsibility. Why didn't she keep the appointment? Oh, she wsa jetsetting off to Turkey. Yeah, that's not going to look good. Not paying tickets is bad enough, but blowing off an appointment with a judge is just stupid. Maybe a few nights in jail will teach her to keep priorities next time.

Best thing she can do is to pay for everything immediately, even if it means going without a few luxuries (like trips to Turkey) in the meantime.
They really *can* toss you in jail for unpaid tickets. Or they can tow your car, which you'll never see again unless you pay the fees *and* towing & storage.

Have her look into the short-term loan thing, if the school offers it. If you have the money to give her, do that as well. Just get them paid, otherwise more Bad Things can occur.
posted by drstein at 1:30 PM on March 21, 2006

Go to the University Legal Clinic for help when she gets back.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:31 PM on March 21, 2006

Like unSane says. Don't be an enabler.
posted by Faze at 1:31 PM on March 21, 2006

Thirding the suggestion that she needs to get herself out of this and that you shouldn't interfere. She really needs to learn to allow more time to get to important destinations, and to pay tickets if she gets them. I wouldn't sweat the bench warrant thing, I certainly wouldn't expect actual jail time to come out of it -- assuming that does what any rational person would do: go to the court as soon as she returns and pay off whatever is owed in full.... use whatever means are necessary to borrow the money, but get it paid.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:40 PM on March 21, 2006

They issue Bench Warrants over parking tickets now?

Holy crap. I would have been doing 20 to Life.

In the late 1980's Seattle went through parking ticket mania. One day the city up and put a meter in front the house I lived in where it was free the day before. Also the job I had - in the film business - required that I park in commercial spots and my boss SWORE he cover the tickets - he didn't. I was broke and just out of college. I got maybe ten tickets before I simply could not pay anymore. I went to a magistrate a they put me on a payment program. but then the city went and did and insane thing. They sold the contract for the tickets to a private collections firm who then tagged 43% interest on them. Even those accounts that city AGREED to a payment schedule. Overnight I had $2400 in parking ticket fines.

Back then they were attached to the vehicle renewal as well.

So I sold my car to roommate for a dollar. And he transferred the title in another county. And then GAVE it back to me.

I then called the collections agents and told them, point blank, they were not getting shit. They could garnish me or what ever. I couldn't care less. I then got a lawyer. After the first letter the lawyer sent them they left me alone.

It took EIGHT years to get that off my credit report. I still had to pay the original fines - about $400 dollars - when we bought our first house. A compromise I accepted.

So no. Parking fines are not some character assessment. Some times they happen. And cities use them as a predatory revenue creating practice.

Forget this preach stuff by some of these guys about how bad your girlfriend is.

Get a lawyer, my friend. Now. That is where you start.
posted by tkchrist at 1:47 PM on March 21, 2006

tkchrist has it right.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:52 PM on March 21, 2006

When you get parking tickets, pay them. It's really not that fucking difficult. Or follow tkchrist's advice and have them on your credit report for eight years, and STILL have to pay them in the end.

Yeah, way to go dude. You really stuck it to the man.
posted by unSane at 1:53 PM on March 21, 2006

What's the point of hiring a lawyer? She only owes $500, and a lawyer will cost that much.

Personally, if I didn't have the cash, I'd just do a credit card cash advance (or some similarly terrible financial practice), and pay it all off.

Better to borrow money at 23% than to go to jail.
posted by I Love Tacos at 1:54 PM on March 21, 2006

My brother-in-law was roused from his house at 2:00 AM over some kind of bench warrant in a mass arrest (I don't remember what the original infraction was, but it was pretty minor, and not something I would have expected to warrant a midnight arrest). So don't count on them not coming for her, even if they are 99.9% likely to only arrest her in a passive manner.

But my brother-in-law is an urban hispanic, and I'm pretty sure that had something to do with his arrest.

But really, these are her tickets and her major irresponsibilities. I'd probably be inclined to let her deal with them. I'd give her a loan if she asked, bail her out if she needed it, sure. But trying to talk to the judge because she blew off a meeting to go to Turkey? Because she parks with impunity and ignores the fines? Not a chance. That kind of antisocial behavior needs to change, and a night in jail would probably do wonders in that regard.
posted by teece at 2:00 PM on March 21, 2006

Teece: I'm willing to bet that your BIL wasn't picked up on a bench warrant, there was a warrant issued for some other purpose, I'm sure, for the house or roommates or something, and when they found him, they did a warrant check.

Submitter: Chances are that the bench warrant for failure to appear isn't enforceable outside the county in which it was issued (oftentimes, judges won't swear a warrant that goes past the county just because of the cost/paperwork/manpower hassle of bringing you in if you're picked up in another county). Also, chances are that customes won't shive a git when your fiancee comes back. My hunch is: They'll either forget they saw it, or they'll give her some verbal grief and tell her to clear it up. Especially if she's landing in another county than the original warrant was issued.

Alternately, you can contact a lawyer to have the warrant vacated / quashed (they do this all the time in most states) and a court date re-set. It'll cost about $200.

Or, do your woman a solid, and pay the fines yourself using a credit card, and lord it over her until you feel like she has properly atoned. Sarcasm aside, it's the fastest way of putting this to bed. They don't care who comes up with the money, as long as they GET it.
posted by Merdryn at 2:08 PM on March 21, 2006

What's the point of hiring a lawyer? She only owes $500, and a lawyer will cost that much.

I never paid a dime for my lawyer to handle this.
posted by tkchrist at 2:15 PM on March 21, 2006

I'm terrified for her and feel that I need to do something.

First, take a deep breath. Maybe two or three. You don't need to be terrified for her, it's okay. She's not going to get hauled off to prison and locked up for a long time or anything. It is something she needs to take responsibility for and get cleaned up before it becomes a bigger issue, yes. But it's not a big enough deal to panic about. My impression from your post is that you are more worried about this than the situation actually calls for.
posted by raedyn at 2:17 PM on March 21, 2006

I personally know someone who was rousted from their sleep and taken to jail on the basis of a bench warrant issued for non-payment of a single speeding ticket. My friend lived in Memphis and the speeding ticket/warrant were issued by a smaller town named Bartlett that abuts it. I'm still amazed. Not saying it will happen in your case.
posted by Carbolic at 2:22 PM on March 21, 2006

I never paid a dime for my lawyer to handle this.

That makes no sense. Lawyers aren't free.

Maybe they're only free if the lawyer advises you to skip payments, wreck your credit, and then negotiate to pay just the original fines. In which case the advice is so terrible, that $0 is still a ripoff.
posted by I Love Tacos at 2:23 PM on March 21, 2006

re: the suggestion that you should pay it off for her.

Yes, you can pay it off for her (If you know how much it is. It's possible that they won't tell you the amount because of privacy rules. Depends on where you are and who you talk to).

But consider:
Are you sure she'll pay you back when she can't keep up with paying back the City, even when they have the authority to put her in jail (if only temporarily)? Are you willing to just pay the fines outright and not have her pay you back? What will be gained from you doing that? Will she stop getting the tickets, or will she just be in this situation again in six months? How do you know?
posted by raedyn at 2:25 PM on March 21, 2006

She should be taking care of these tickets herself.

She leaves the country after agreeing to see a judge about a matter that could get a warrant issued? Yeah, she needs to clear that up herself.
posted by bshort at 3:17 PM on March 21, 2006

$500 dollars in parking tickets in Lawrence?
Wow, that takes some doing, the tickets are only $2.
I mean, sure, if you don't pay it in 10 days, the fine goes up to $10, but still. Hell, even the "Habitual Offender" ticket is only $50.

But to answer your question.
The odds that a parking ticket bench warrant will show up before your fiance re-enters the country are slim to none.
A bench warrant basically only gets executed when you interact with the police (ie, you get pulled over for speeding or somesuch). The police aren't going to bust into your house looking for your fiance and immigration likely won't know/care.
Failure to appear is the bigger issue now (She blew off a meeting with a judge? Not smart). That will almost certainly get her tossed in the holding cell the next time a cop runs her license.
The clerk is basically right, since she had her chance to pay in installments, the govt. is now going to want it's pound in full to clear the warrant, but again, unless she runs into an officer, she can go about her daily life for years without worrying about being arrested.

That said, if you are really worried about it, scrap together the cash(is that plasma place still over on 23rd?), pay the fines, and get an official release.
Take that release, fax it to your girlfriend, so if by some remote chance she does get hassled about it, she's got some proof that it was taken care of.

And for the future, if I remember right, Lawrence has 5 or 6 _free_ two hour lots downtown. Tell her to use them.
If she needs to park longer or is habitually so far behind she can't find a spot, a yearly pass is $200.
Get her one for a wedding gift.
posted by madajb at 3:27 PM on March 21, 2006

Response by poster: Well, I found out that she sent the judge a letter in lieu of attending, and the meeting was scheduled for a time after she flew out, so she didn't exactly blow it off. I've known about this situation for some time, but the status quo was that she saw the judge every month to check in and she had agreed to pay them off starting in the summer. I guess he got really pissed off that she missed the meeting.

Ironmouth - Actually, I was told that I could talk to the judge on her behalf, and that at worst it would not hurt her case to do so.

I do actually know that she has not received any tickets in the past two months because the court clerk checked for me.

I know that she can and will pay me back - she makes more than enough money, but the timing is bad because she basically emptied her bank account to go interview women's groups in Turkey and will be nearly broke until she gets paid at the end of the week.

And yes, I was overreacting.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 5:04 PM on March 21, 2006

One small suggestion -- You and your fiancee might want to make sure that you guys are on the same wavelength about responsibility and bill paying and money and such before you get married. It could wind up being a big source of friction. :)
posted by bim at 6:17 PM on March 21, 2006

I've had a bench warrant... issued in Lawrence... for missing a court date for a ticket (speeding, but still). I went down to the courthouse, paid it, and never heard anything about it again. Of course I didn't anger a judge on a personal level in the process, but I think everyone is right in saying that, in terms of re-entering the country, this is not a big deal.

I will echo madajb's sentiment, though, $500 in parking tickets, in Lawrence? That's just showing off.
posted by cosmonaught at 6:24 PM on March 21, 2006

nthing the suggestion to let her deal with it. She shit the bed, she needs to change the sheets. I commend you for wanting to help her out, but this sounds like a systemic problem she has, not a single oopsie.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:08 PM on March 21, 2006

Seriously, she couldn't afford to pay the parking tickets (resulting in a bench warrant for her arrest being issued) but she could afford to fly to Turkey to interview women's groups? Somebody needs to re-order their priorities.
posted by antifuse at 3:28 AM on March 22, 2006

What are you going to do? You're going to pay the fines!

Realistically, flaking out as eliminated all the other options. You'll just have to pony up the $500... which in the end, won't be the end of the world. Frankly, I'd be very nervous about my girlfriend re-entering the country with a bench warrant out for her arrest.
posted by ph00dz at 5:19 AM on March 22, 2006

Maybe they're only free if the lawyer advises you to skip payments, wreck your credit, and then negotiate to pay just the original fines. In which case the advice is so terrible, that $0 is still a ripoff.

Uh, there is Legal Aid. Which drafted me a letter FOR FREE because I was impoverished. They do that. because of that FREE letter my credit remains spotless, dude. Yeah. It showed up when we went to purchase a house eight years later (but NOT when I purchased a condo before that?). When I told my Banker it was from eight year old PARKING TICKETS... he actually laughed. And, golly, we got the house anyway.

So stop being a judgmental jerk.

To expedite the removal and not pay a lawyer more I paid the pittance of $400. A net savings of nearly $900. And a delay of over ten years from when the fines occurred. A win win.
So it worked out great for me.

So. Smart guy. Since when is telling somebody to get a lawyer - when they being threatened with frigg'n jail - BAD advice.

You know what's bad advice. Judging people so you can feel superior. The person in question has a bench warrant. Ok. She may be past the point of simply paying fines.

She ( and he) needs to talk to a lawyer. Immediately.

Maybe if some of you would stop acting like the city council from Foot Loose and, you know, help instead of preach and snark. Isn't that what ASKMEFI is for?
posted by tkchrist at 9:54 AM on March 22, 2006

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