Update for 11-19-15

Update for 11/19/15:  On 11/18/15 three people testified before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in the State House in Boston in support of H1576, a bill that would change the law relating to parking ticket appeals.  (Currently in Massachusetts the law requires that if someone wants to contest a parking ticket in court they must first pay a non-refundable filing fee of $275H1576 would fix that problem.  For more information about this see the update for 9/6/15, below.)  The three people who testified were:

  • Vincent Gillespie (he is the author of this website and the Plaintiff in the lawsuit that started this initiative).
  • Andrew Pesek of Cambridge, who spoke on behalf of the National Motorist’s Association.  He read a statement that was prepared for him in part by Gary Biller, President of the National Motorist’s Association.
  • Richard Fries, the Executive Director of MassBike, an organization which advocates for the interests of bicyclists in Massachusetts.  (The current version of H1576 includes provisions to greatly improve the process for bicyclists who want to contest citations they received for traffic violations.)

The testimony seemed to go smoothly and well.  Hopefully, the Joint Committee on the Judiciary will report the bill favorably out of that committee so that it can move on to the next step in the process of getting passed.

For more information about these issues see the update for 9/6/15, just below.

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Update for 9-6-15: H1576, a bill to change the process for appealing parking tickets (and bicycle tickets) in Massachusetts

This website covers an ongoing effort to change the law relating to parking ticket appeals – and now also bicycle ticket appeals – in Massachusetts. This effort was started by Vincent Gillespie in 2005, when he got an unjustified parking ticket in Northampton, Mass. After an unsuccessful appeal to the Northampton parking clerk, Vincent found that according to Mass. law – M.G.L. c. 90, §20A½[1] – the only further legal avenue available to him (the only way to get a hearing in an actual court) was to appeal to (not small claims court, not district court, but) Superior Court and to pay a non-refundable filing fee of $275 (plus other costs bringing the total to over $300). Thus the law in Mass. effectively prevents appeals of parking tickets to the courts and Mass. is the only state in the country which does this.[2] (A more detailed discussion of the basics of the issue can be read by clicking here.)

Thus, Vincent sued in court to challenge and change the appeals process. (The case was Vincent Gillespie et al vs. City of Northampton, filed in Hampshire Superior Court.) The ACLU took up the case and it went to the Mass. Supreme Court. But that court ruled against Vincent’s appeal in a decision dated 7/14/11, holding that Mass. G.L. c. 90, §20A½ was constitutional. (This decision was grossly dishonest and filled with serious errors. Some additional points about the decision and a separate, detailed critical analysis of it can be read by clicking here.)

The 7/14/11 decision also sort of punted the ball over to the legislature (so to speak) by holding that although Mass. filing fees for appeals of parking tickets to the courts were higher than those of other states, it was up to the state legislature and not the courts to set the amounts of those fees.

Thus, (consistent with the Mass. Supreme Court’s ruling) the ACLU and Vincent have been supporting a bill to change the law in the last several legislative sessions of the Mass. State Legislature. For the 2015-2016 legislative session (the 189th session), the bill we are supporting is H1576. This new version of the bill has been expanded to include appeals of bicycle violation tickets as well as parking ticket appeals.[3] The bill’s sponsors are Rep. Byron Rushing (D-Boston, South End), the Assistant Majority Leader, and Rep. Evandro Carvalho (D-Dorchester). The bill would change the law by sending parking ticket appeals (and bicycle ticket appeals) to Small Claims court and it would limit the filing fees (to $20 or 25% of the ticket amount, whichever is less) and it would make the filing fee refundable if the appellant prevails.  (Doesn’t that sound more sensible than paying a non-refundable filing fee of $275 to appeal a parking ticket in Superior Court?)  The bill currently sits with the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

Vincent Gillespie, the author of this website and the plaintiff in the case of Vincent Gillespie et al vs. City of Northampton was interviewed on the radio about this issue several times and there were several favorable news articles, including an excellent editorial piece in the Boston Globe article dated 6/28/14.

You can help!  Contact your state legislators and tell them to support H1576. Go to the Take Action! page for instructions on doing so.

                [1] And M.G.L. c. 90, §20A and also M.G.L. c. 30A, §14.

                [2] New York uses an administrative law judicial system to adjudicate parking ticket appeals.

                [3] Currently, M.G.L. c. 85, section 11E and M.G.L. c. 90C, section 3 require that a bicyclist who receives a ticket for a motor vehicle law violation must pay non-refundable filing fees totaling $75 to get a hearing before a judge. H1576 would replace that appeals process with an appeal to small claims court with a smaller filing fee ($20 or 25% of the ticket amount, whichever is less) which is refundable if the appeal is successful.

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About this website

This website provides basic information about two Massachusetts lawsuits that affect Massachusetts drivers: (1) Gillespie and Hamel vs. the City of Northampton (relating to parking ticket appeals), and (2) Salem Police Department vs. Sullivan (relating to moving violation citation appeals).  (Click on either of the two prior hyperlinks for information about each of those two cases.)  Both of these cases challenged Massachusetts laws which require exorbitant filing fees to get a court hearing to appeal tickets that have been issued to drivers.  The two cases were heard together by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) on March 10, 2011.

Decisions have been handed down in each of these two cases by the SJC holding that these improper fees are not unconstitutional.  (Read about the 7/14/11 decision in the Gillespie case [the “Parking Ticket Lawsuit”] by clicking here.  Read about the decision in the Sullivan case by clicking here.)  The SJC’s 7/14/11 decision in the Parking Ticket Case is very wrong and dishonest.  Click here to read a critical analysis of that decision.  (This author also believes and asserts that the decision in the Sullivan case, which cites and relies on the 7/14/11 decision in the Parking Ticket Case, is also wrong).

Efforts are underway to have the Mass. state legislature pass a bill, H1576, which would change the law relating to parking ticket appeals (and also motor vehicle law violation tickets received by bicyclists).  See discussion by clicking here.

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Decision issued in the Parking Ticket Case

On 7/14/11 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) issued a decision in the Parking Ticket CaseClick here to read it.  That court affirmed the lower court’s decision (i.e., the SJC denied the Plaintiffs’ appeal which sought to have the law declared unconstitutional).   One of the SJC’s main contentions was that there would be many frivolous appeals filed in the courts if the appeals procedure was changed and that the fiscal and administrative burdens of additional or substitute procedural requirements would be “overwhelming.”  However, the SJC did not provide one iota of evidence to support this contention.  (The SJC cited p. 335 of the Mathews vs. Eldridge case, a US Supreme Court decision, but that does not support its position.)  On the contrary, the right to appeal parking tickets with brief hearings in small claims court (which would usually take just a few minutes each), even if a few of them were unmeritorious, would not be a burden which would “overwhelm” the state.   Contrary to the SJC’s position, it is a good thing when people appeal their parking tickets to the courts and when innocent people are vindicated.  It enhances people’s faith in the judiciary and in local government, it enhances the individual’s sense of justice, and it rectifies the injustice of wrongfully issued parking tickets.  (This may apply even if the appellant is found responsible for the ticket but he still sees that the appellate hearing was conducted with fairness and due process of law.)  This court is out of touch with the interests of the people of this state.

A Critical Analysis of the SJC’s 7/14/11 Decision can be read by clicking here.

It is now up to the legislature to fix this issue.  A bill, House Bill H1576, sponsored by Representative Byron Rushing (D-Boston, South End) and Rep. Evandro Carvalho (D-Dorchester), is presently pending in the Massachusetts state legislature which would move parking ticket appeals from Superior Court to Small Claims court and it would limit the filing fee to a reasonable amount and make it refundable if the appellant prevails.  (The  bill would also allow appeals of motor vehicle law violation tickets received by bicyclists to be heard in Small Claims court with reduced and refundable filing fees.)  If you are a Massachusetts resident you can help by contacting your state legislators and urging them to support this bill.  For information about doing that click here.

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Decision issued in the Sullivan Case

On September 21, 2011 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) issued its decision on the Sullivan case (which challenged the high, nonrefundable filing fees associated with appeals of moving violation tickets).  The SJC denied plaintiff Ralph Sullivan’s appeal (i.e., it ruled that the fees should remain as they are).  The decision can be found here.  (The Sullivan case was heard by the SJC on the same day as the Parking Ticket Case, on 3/10/2011, as both cases involve similar legal issues, and the SJC’s decision in the former case cites its decision in the latter case.)

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