'Are Court Employees Above the Law?' - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NC5 Investigates: The Ticket Fix

'Are Court Employees Above the Law?'

(Story created: 2/7/06)

The Metro police department's internal affairs unit has opened a probe into possible ticket fixing by the department's officers. This follows an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation. But police aren't the only ones taking advantage of the ticket fix.

Come before one of Davidson County's General Sessions judges --and be prepared to pay the price for what you've done.

That is unless you work for one of the judges.

"Are court employees above the law?" NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams asks the presiding judge of Davidson County's General Session Courts.

"Absolutely not," Casey Moreland replies. "Matter of a fact, I would think court employees should probably be held to a little higher standard."

But probation officer Melanie Taylor got hit with 100 parking tickets over the past two years. Nineteen are still pending.

The other 81 were all dismissed.

"Can you tell us how one woman could have so many parking tickets -- and not have to pay," Williams asks the probation officer.

"I have no comment," she replies.

Williams asks the presiding judge, "Would the average citizen be able to get out of 100 parking tickets?"

"I would hope not," Moreland answers.

"Why should she?"

"She shouldn't.  It's not right."

Court records show many of Taylor's tickets were dismissed by special judges -- attorneys who substitute for the county's elected General Sessions judges.

"Are special judges -- filling in, they're not elected -- are they more likely to take care of people's tickets," Williams asks Moreland.

"Probably so, they probably would."

Williams asks Taylor, "Are you abusing your position with the court?"

"No, I'm not," she insists.

"So how did you get out of so many tickets?"

She doesn't answer.

But Taylor isn't alone.  Inside the General Sessions probation, several officers there together racked up more than 300 parking tickets that the judges promptly dismissed.

That includes 32 tickets written to probation officer Kenneth Connell's vehicle.

And on a day we were with him, parking enforcement officer Darrell Burnside discovers Connell is using an old handicapped placard with the date altered to try to avoid getting more tickets.

"This person is not only stealing money from the taxpayers," Burnside says.

"His meter is not paid and sitting all day.  He had the audacity to alter his handicap placard to get away free pretending to be an incapacitated individual."

And we discovered the courts employee had been written up for that same altered placard at least twice before.

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

"The system is not fair and equal," he replies.

Williams tells Moreland, "That doesn't look good for the system."

"That doesn't look good for anybody -- especially the system," the judge agrees.

But when we went to the probation office, the public servants there didn't want to come out of their back offices to answer to the public about their tickets.

"I can tell you what the judges did when we found out about it," Moreland says.

Now, the General Sessions judges have warned court officials:

If any employee attempts to have a parking or traffic ticket retired or dismissed by a sitting or special judge, they are subject to immediate termination.

"That's not to say they can't go on their court date and argue their case just like any other citizen can," Moreland explains.

"But if they try to do what apparently they've been doing, they are subject to immediate termination."

Williams asks Taylor, "Are you above the law?"

"No, I'm not," she answers.

These days, instead of tying up a downtown meter that might be needed by a citizen coming to court, Melanie Taylor parks in a nearby Metro lot that -- like all her illegal parking -- is still free.

Our investigation discovered that:

  • The court system encourages judge shopping. A person can take any ticket to any judge to get it dismissed, even if a judge is not scheduled to hear that ticket.
  • Attorneys who are just substituting as special judges have just as much authority to dismiss someone's ticket as any elected judge, including tickets they are not scheduled to hear.
  • And judges don't keep any record of officers' names when they grant an officer's request to dismiss a ticket.

The result: the ticket fix can go on very quietly behind the scenes with very little documentation.

Back to NC5 Investigates: The Ticket Fix
Back to NewsChannel 5 Investigates 

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