'It Appears That Somebody Knows Somebody' - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NC5 Investigates: The Ticket Fix

'It Appears That Somebody Knows Somebody'

(Story created: 2/6/06)

An exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation uncovers what some might call the ticket fix. Others call it wrong. Our investigation discovered that, if you've ever paid a parking ticket, it may just be because you don't know the right people.

Anyone who's ever parked downtown knows the rule: pay now -- or pay later.

"Most people who get a parking ticket, they just pay it,"  General Sessions Judge Casey Moreland tells NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams.

But even Moreland, the presiding judge of Davidson County's General Sessions Courts, admits what we discovered is true: some folks may not always have to pay if they know the right person.

"If a police officer comes to you -- and says, 'Judge, this ticket was given to a friend of mine' -- would you dismiss it?" Williams asks

"Have I dismissed it? Yes."

In fact, NewsChannel 5 reviewed more than 136,000 parking tickets for the past two years.

Of those that have been adjudicated, 88,000 were guilty - the drivers paid the fines.

But almost 16,000 parking tickets were dismissed or, in court language, retired -- and no one can say why.

"Just looking at numbers," Moreland says, "it probably don't look good on its surface.  But you have to be there to hear the reason that the tickets get dismissed."

But no one can say why Steve McNair scored a break.

When the multimillion-dollar quarterback got this parking ticket, instead of paying the $11 fines, he gave it to someone who got a substitute judge to dismiss it.

That judge, Larry Hoover, says McNair never came to court to contest the ticket.  Although he says he doesn't remember it, Hoover says he presumes a police officer brought him the ticket.

"I'm sure that's correct," Moreland says.

"Would that be uncommon?" Williams asks.

"That a police officer brought a ticket? Absolutely not."

But employees at this downtown Walgreens make McNair's connections pale by comparison.

Their vehicles are well known to parking enforcement officer Darrell Burnside and his co-workers.

"I recognize this one, that one and this one of late," he tells Phil Williams, pointing out certain vehicles.

And we watched as they illegally parked all day long -- day after day.

In the last two years, court records show the Walgreens vehicles racked up well over 200 tickets. And, you guessed it: somebody made those 200-plus parking tickets just go away.

"What does that tell you?" Williams asks Moreland.

"It appears," he replies, "that somebody knows somebody."

Store manager Barbara Van Meter got hit with 57 parking tickets in two years.

Court records also show she had two speeding tickets. 

But she didn't pay a single one.

"So who takes care of your parking tickets for you?" Williams asks her.

"I have no comment," she answers.

Assistant manager Cynthia Homan wasn't far behind, with 51 tickets that all got dismissed.

"Can you tell us how you get out of so many parking tickets?" Williams asks her.

She replies, "I have no comment, sir."

"Ma'am, why don't you just pay your parking tickets?"

Still, store employees didn't want to share their ticket secrets with everybody else.

"You're not allowed to videotape inside a Walgreens store," Van Meter tells Williams.

"Are you allowed to get tickets fixed?" he interjects.

"You're going to have to leave."

In some cases, notes of the Walgreens tickets indicate a judge dismissed them "ROP" - request of prosecutor - or "request of officer."

Some of those were written, it turns out, by Burnside -- who says he can only conclude somebody went behind his back and asked judges to dismiss his tickets.

"There may have been an officer, but it wasn't me," he says.

"So these tickets have been fixed?" Williams asks.

"They have been taken care of, it appears."

Judge Dan Eisenstein says his own notes on a few of those tickets suggest it was a police officer who came to him, claiming to have the authority to dismiss them tickets.

"Someone in the police department -- an officer -- asked me to withdraw it," Eisenstein says, insisting he was misled.

"They are misusing me as a judge. And if you find out who is doing it, I would be delighted to know.  Right now, I am furious about it."

It was a question that Williams asks Homan: "Can you tell us who your ticket fixer is?"

But these folks aren't alone. Our investigation also found tickets being taken care of for politicians, police employees, even officials inside the judge's own courts.

"Is that the way the system is supposed to work," Williams asks Moreland.

"Absolutely not," the presiding judge acknowledges.

The people doing this appear to shop around to lots of different judges.

But the problems we discovered with the courts' own employees were so bad that they've now been warned that they could be fired if they use their position to get a ticket dismissed.

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