When Sondra Ellingson came home from vacation last March, she was shocked to find several parking tickets slapped on the windshield of her car.
Three tickets in four days: a total of $225 in fines.
"My car never moved,” Ellingson said. “And all for the same violation, all while I'm out of town."
Her car was parked right outside her home, which is next to a viaduct, and is where the "no parking" sign at the center of this story sits tucked underneath it.
Ellingson maintains the sign means there is no parking allowed under the viaduct. There are no arrows on it showing where parking starts or stops. A sign Ellingson calls confusing at best.
"So, no parking where? At any time? Do they mean right here? There's no arrow down, there's no arrow that way," Ellingson explained.
The violations she received were for parking her car just north of the viaduct, not underneath it. It’s a ticket Ellingson has received five times over the last few years. Each time, she contested it, and won.
City administrative law judges agreed with her: the parking tickets were written in error, and wiped them out.
Her undefeated record changed when a recent appeal landed in front of an administrative law judge NBC 5 responds has reported on for years.
ALJ Lonathan Hurse found Ellingson liable for the three tickets, unlike the other judges before him.
Around the same time, Ellingson saw one of several NBC 5 Responds reports involving ALJ Hurse, and sent us this email, out of complete frustration:
“Please help! I was a victim of Lonathon D. Hurse too! NBC 5 Responds is my last resort… I had wanted to reach out to you before and when I saw a piece that your team had done about how Mr. Hurse “handles” drivers’ and their violations, I knew I needed to write! On the street adjacent to our condo building, there is a sign that states “no parking at anytime” that is placed under the viaduct. It means “no parking under the viaduct” and does not mean that you are not to park on the street at all. I have contested multiple tickets in writing in the recent past for this same parking violation and was found to not be responsible for the fine. I have now received two letters from lawyers attempting to collect this debt that has now risen to a total of nearly $550. It is very disconcerting.”
It’s a pattern NBC 5 responds has seen before: driver after driver who say ALJ Hurse ruled against them unfairly. In cases we investigated, the drivers were right, and the city reversed his decisions.
"It just doesn't make sense it seems like social injustice, you know, it really does," Ellingson said.
We asked the city how she could be on the hook for three tickets, but off the hook for five, of the exact same violation?
The city says it is entirely reasonable that the ALJ’s reviewing the violations made different determinations based on the difference in the quality of evidence presented in each case.
But then, after our inquiry, the city came out and removed the sign that started the whole ordeal. It has also agreed to wipe out the late fees that doubled, but says Ellingson remains liable because the ticket writers were just enforcing that no parking sign. There is no word on what the new, and hopefully improved, sign will say.
Our attempts to reach ALJ Hurse for comment were unsuccessful.
"I don't wish any tickets on anybody,” Ellingson said. “But I definitely don't want to have to pay for something I'm not responsible for."
The City of Chicago issued the following statement:
City of Chicago parking enforcement efforts are intended to prevent traffic congestion, enforce residential and commercial parking laws, and address safety concerns. Motorists must comply with enforceable no parking signs or be subject to ticketing. The Lightfoot Administration has taken significant steps to implement comprehensive fines and fees reforms intended to help the city’s most vulnerable residents which include creating a series of new payment plans that lower the down payment entry requirements and additional pathways to compliance that can assist residents in getting back on their feet. For more information about payment plans offered by the City, visit www.chicago.gov/newstartchicago.org.
- The motorist was ticketed for parking on a street with a No Parking Sign on display.
- The Parking Enforcement Aide was acting in accordance with existing parking enforcement rules when issuing the tickets and an Administrative Hearing Judge found the motorist liable.
- The Department of Finance will not submit a petition to vacate the liable judgments to the Department of Administrative Hearings but will waive the late fee charges accrued while the motorist was contesting the tickets.