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Court Case Argues Portland Parking Tickets Are Not Valid

Saturday, August 30, 2014


The result of an obscure traffic court hearing this year has raised questions about whether or not Portland parking tickets conform to state law.

Some legal experts say it's a good question.

In 2013, over 260,000 parking citations were issued in Portland, generating $18 million for enforcement agencies and the state general fund, according to the Multnomah County court administrator.

But are they valid?

In January Michael Selvaggio took a parking ticket to trial in Multnomah County Circuit Court after he claimed his ticket failed to display the time and place of his court appearance, according to court documents.

“I alleged that the ticket doesn’t conform to state law,” said Selvaggio. 

He argued that the law requires parking tickets to display the time and place of the defendant’s appearance in court.   

Judge Marilyn Litzenberger dismissed the ticket and Selvaggio's money was refunded.

Undecided by the courts at large

Litzenberger said she doesn’t actually remember the case.

“I don’t sit on traffic court that often,” Judge Litzenberger said. “I don’t even know what a Portland parking ticket looks like.”

But she doubts she made a decision that would have invalidated all of Portland’s parking tickets.

“I think I’d remember that.” 

One judge's ruling doesn't settle the issue one way or the other; it just raises the question.

parking ticket

At the heart of Selvaggio's case is a 1984 opinion by Attorney General David Frohnmayer that states Portland’s tickets have to conform to state law (OR 221.333). Those standards require that the time and a place for a court appearance be written on a ticket.

Portland parking tickets do state a defendant must “make an appearance with the court within 30 days of the citation” or take one of three actions - all of which require you to pay your fine first. 

But is that notification enough to satisfy the law?

Margie Paris, University of Oregon appellate court law professor, said it’s still an open question whether the tickets fulfill state requirements on notification.  She said unless someone takes the issues to an appeals court the question isn’t settled.

“Whether or not it's sufficient to identify a 30-day window remains, I think, unclear and undecided under Oregon law,” Paris said. 

Litzenberger said that if the tickets make it clear that you have an opportunity to take your citation to court, the intent of the law has been served. But she can’t say why she dismissed Selvaggio's case.

Selvaggio, on the other hand, thinks without the time and place expressly stated, the tickets obscure the fact that you have the option to go to court.

“It seems to assume you are guilty and will just pay the fine,” Selvaggio said.

Municipal court system dissolved

Attorney Alexander Hamalian thinks the ticket might pass legal muster, but that someone could still win in court. 

In 1971, Portland’s municipal court was dissolved. In 1998 the district court was also dissolved. Now the state circuit court handles all city violations, Hamalian explained.

Hamalian said the loss of the lower court system means judges don’t get a lot of time to learn municipal law anymore. 

”In the merger [of the court system] we’ve lost the training process for judges,” Hamalian said.

Parking Officer Paul James

The state circuit court creates the actual language used on the tickets.  Gresham's parking tickets also have a similar format.

"The notice is adequate," said Doug Bray, Multnomah County court administrator. "It's been adequate all these years."

However, Bray said judges are free to rule as they may on individual cases and that defendants are free to raise time and place "as an issue."

Given the legal gray area, some may choose to fight city hall, at least on parking tickets.

Selvaggio for one, has another parking-ticket appearance in court coming up.

He said he plans to use the same defense.


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