An investigation of the city's parking ticket appeals process by NBC 5 Investigates has resulted in the "retraining" of an attorney who handles thousands of parking ticket cases every year.
Our inquiry started after a Chicago driver told NBC 5 Investigates the system flat-out ignored evidence that tickets were unfairly slapped on his pickup truck multiple times.
After we reviewed the details of his case, Sam Navin's failed efforts to fight City Hall provoked questions about the fairness of a system that is supposed to protect drivers. When his truck got a parking ticket last July for having an expired truck permit, Navin thought he had a slam dunk case.
"It should have been an open and shut case," Navin said. "But here we are, six months later."
The ticket writer snapped photos, later posted on the city's website, that were too blurry to actually read the date on his permit, Navin says.
Navin said he had proof he was the first person in the 44th Ward to get the truck permit last year, which was right after he moved to Chicago.
"It would be impossible...to have an expired permit, because I've never had a permit other than this current one," Navin said. "I moved here in February, so this is the only permit I have ever had."
Still, he says, he was thorough in contesting the ticket.
"I took a picture of the permit and I took a picture of my city sticker so they knew that everything was up to date," Navin said. "I [even] took a picture of my license plates."
The defense he spent hours on was rejected in minutes by an administrative law judge for the city who said that because Navin's photo was undated, there was a possibility he had affixed the current permit after getting the ticket.
A remedy subsequent to a violation is not a defense, therefore the ALJ ruled, greater weight goes to the city. Navin must pay.
Two weeks after the first ticket, Navin received another ticket on the same truck, this time for no front license plate.
The second ticket was not accompanied by any pictures of the front of his truck, where Navin said the plate has been all along.
Again, Navin took pictures, showing both the front and the back of his truck, plates attached.
"Again, they upheld the ticket, " Navin said.
The same ALJ for the city gave the same answer: liable.
This time, the ALJ rejected Navin's defense because his picture had a date, taken two days after he received the ticket.
Once again, the ALJ suggested Navin remedied the violation after he got the ticket; once again, "greater weight given to the city."
Ticket watchdog and Expired Meter blogger Mike Brockway said it's absurd to expect residents to carry predated pictures of their vehicles.
"Would you be taking photos of your car to document it ahead of time, to show, 'I got this sticker on it?'" Brockway said. "I mean, who does that!?"
When NBC 5 Investigates brought questions about Sam Navin's tickets to the city on Dec. 16 of 2014, those tickets were wiped out within hours.
But it would take us six weeks to get an answer why.
In the meantime, we asked a different question: who is the Administrative Law Judge who ruled against Navin both times?
Administrative Law Judges are private attorneys hired by the city to conduct hearings on parking tickets and on various other municipal violations
The ALJ who ruled on both of Navin's appeals is Lonathan D. Hurse, a South Side attorney licensed since 1980.
According to records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Hurse last year ruled on nearly 10,000 contested parking violations.
Of the 9,966 hearings, Hurse ruled against residents 7,094 times and dismissed in their favor 2,872 times. That's a rate of approximately 71 percent in favor of the city.
The city declined our request for an interview with Hurse, but a spokesperson offered the following statement regarding the ALJ's rulings against Navin:
"Mr. Navin contacted the Department of Administrative Hearings in November requesting that the department review the two liable decisions that he believed to be made in error," the statement read. "Upon receipt of this request along with additional information, DOAH reviewed all available information and determined that Mr. Navin should not have been found liable in either case. City departments worked together to correct this error, and in December, the two liable decisions were vacated. As a result of this incident, ALJ Hurse has already been retrained on reviewing the City's evidence and photographs."