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News, City Council, Santa Monica

Settlement Negotiations Ended In Parking Ticket Lawsuit

Posted Jul. 5, 2012, 2:10 am

Parimal M. Rohit / Staff Writer

An attorney representing plaintiffs against Santa Monica was reportedly informed by City Hall that negotiations to settle a case involving thousands of parking tickets have been ceased, according to a statement.

Attorney Eric Benink, who represents Stanley and Harriet Epstein, among others, stated he was advised by Deputy City Attorney Jeanette Schachtner on June 22 that the city council was to be advised at its next meeting that “the City and ACS/Xerox are ending settlement negotiations of the case concerning violations of California statutes governing parking enforcement.”

The settlement negotiations stemmed from a class action lawsuit brought against City Hall by the Epsteins as part of a disputed parking ticket. Harriet Epstein challenged the validity of a parking ticket last year and followed standard procedure in her contest. However, she alleged that the City’s Parking Violations Bureau (PVB) upheld the violation but failed to state why.

Under the California Vehicle Code, she contends, the PVB was required to explain its reasons when denying a challenge. The Epsteins allege they were not given any explanations as to why the challenged parking ticket was deemed valid – an inaction the plaintiffs claim is contrary to state law.

The Epsteins apparently are not alone in the PVB’s alleged failure to site any reasons to challengers why their respective parking tickets are deemed valid.

“There are 20,000 motorists … who are also denied their statutory rights by the city’s handling of their parking tickets. And the number grows daily because the city continues to send out illegal form letters,” Harriet Epstein told council members on June 26. “We have no qualms in going to trial since the state law is so clear. We are confident we will win and the court will award no less than what is in the negotiated settlement.”

She also added that by City Hall pulling out of settlement negotiations, Santa Monica has exposed itself to a court appearance and, the Epsteins believe, a very large economic cost.

“The judge could order Santa Monica to refund the affected motorists full fines. Then the city will be looking at a $1.2 million-plus bill and perhaps be required to pay a monitor to oversee its actions,” Harriet Epstein said on Tuesday night in council chambers.

Interestingly enough, City Hall had previously announced a resolution in this case. According to a statement released by the plaintiffs, “City Attorney Marsha Moutrie and City Manager Rod Gould told Council, residents and the media that a full settlement had been reached and the Epsteins would reap a windfall of $75,000 less a legal fee.”

That was on Feb. 28, the statement said, further adding that the statements by Moutrie and Gould “were deliberate lies” that were “later retracted.”

Both the Epsteins and Benink stated that council members would be advised during closed session at its June 26 meeting that settlement negotiations have ended.

“The City’s withdrawal from settlement talks now mean the case will go towards a court hearing and decision in November,” a statement from the plaintiffs said. “Instead of admitting that it has made mistakes in handling parking tickets, and making appropriate amends to affected motorists as provided in the proposed settlement agreement, the City has wasted a lot of time and taxpayer money.”

The Epsteins and Benink added that about four weeks ago, “the City submitted a redraft of the agreement to give legal protection to more than 20,000 motorists, doubling the original number of those affected by its actions.

“The reason for the change was that a citizen recently came forward to advise that although the City had claimed it had changed its notices as of May 2011 ‘as a public service’ in the wake of the Epsteins’ lawsuit,” the statement continued.

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Jul. 5, 2012, 4:57:42 pm

Bob Abernethy said...

All this money is being wasted by the City for no reason other than their refusal to admit an error. Not to admit intentional wrongdoing, but a refusal to simply acknowledge a mistake. Even though as a SAMO taxpayer, this case is liable to wind up costing me a fe shekels, I offer huge kudos to the Epsteins for not letting the Bullies on Main Street, and their hired lapdogs, get away with it!

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