On a frigid day last March, Jessie Greany headed to Chicago for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration with friends. She left the next day with one extra item she says she neither expected nor deserved: a $75 parking ticket.
“I had a residential parking permit on my windshield. I parked right outside my friend’s apartment, like I usually do. Put it on my windshield like normal,” Greany told NBC 5 Responds. “I didn’t even think twice about it.”
Greany says the ticket arrived in the mail accompanied by a parking enforcement aide’s photo, which showed only the driver’s side of her car.
“I just didn’t understand why they took a picture of the driver’s side of my car when everybody knows the permit goes on the passenger’s side,” Greany told NBC 5 Responds.
Using that logic, she appealed the ticket to the City’s Department of Administrative Hearings, where it was rejected by an Administrative Law Judge, or ALJ, who said the picture she submitted of the permit on the windshield was not enough.
“I didn’t feel like it was fair, at all,” Greany said.
When asked about the evidence in Greany’s case- specifically how an administrative law judge could uphold a ticket with a photo that cropped out the relevant part of the car, a spokesperson for the city said Greany’s ticket would be vacated. We then asked some follow-up questions about the ALJ in this case.
His name is Lonathan Hurse, a South Side lawyer who last year heard 14,003 parking ticket appeals for the city. NBC 5 Responds first reported on Hurse back in 2015 when three viewers complained about his decisions. Through information provided by the city in response to a Freedom of Information request, it was discovered Hurse found against drivers in 2014 approximately 70 percent of the time. After that first report, the city said Hurse would be “re-trained” on some of the criteria involved in deciding appeals.
Two years later, the city’s response to an updated FOI request showed Hurse’s ratio remained rough for drivers.
In 2016, the year after the city said he would be re-trained, Hurse found for the City and against drivers more than 68 percent of the time. Compare that with the ratio of all the city ALJs who decide parking ticket appeals, and it is the complete opposite. As a group, ALJs give drivers a break much more often: finding for them 63 percent of the time.
"I think the aggregate numbers show that the city is committed to having ALJs who are fair to Chicago drivers," Expired Meter blogger and self-described ticket watchdog Mike Brockway told NBC 5 Responds.
Brockway says he sees a silver lining in the numbers, but also expressed frustration one ALJ can consistently rule so heavily against drivers. Brockway questioned whether the city is reviewing individual ALJ ratios, like Hurse’s, to make sure drivers get a fair shake.
"If you're not taking the time to be fair to drivers then perhaps this is not the job for you."
ALJ Hurse was paid $91,000 by the City for his work last year. Hurse did not answer our request for comment for this report. After NBC 5 Responds asked the City to re-look at the Greany’s case, a spokesperson said Hurse’s decision would be reversed. Greany’s ticket has now been vacated—giving her back the money she paid, but not the faith she used to have in this system.
"It shouldn't depend on which courtroom you end up in,” Greany said. If you have the evidence, it should be done."