LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Ron Ochida of Burbank fought two parking tickets, and one of them was dismissed.
What he didn’t know is that he actually beat both tickets. But the person deciding his case claims he was unfairly overruled by his boss.
“Did you think were getting a fair hearing when you fought it?” CBS2’s David Goldstein asked Ochida.
“I thought so,” he replied.
Joe Kunkaew is what’s called a traffic examiner. He works at the L.A. City Parking Violations Bureau in Van Nuys as a sort of judge who hears evidence from motorists trying to get traffic tickets dismissed.
In Ochida’s case, he got hit with two $363 tickets in December, when he says he mistakenly used his handicapped placard that he had reported missing but later found.
So, he got slapped with one ticket for using the lost placard and another citation for not using a valid placard.
Ochida didn’t think that was right.
“You either get ticketed for having a placard or not having a placard,” he said. “I had a placard, so I shouldn’t be ticketed.”
Kunkaew essentially agreed.
“I was going to reduce one of the citations to $25 and the other waived the entire fine,” he said.
Kunkaew even showed Goldstein the letter Ochida was supposed to receive showing the total fine of $726 was reduced to just $25 due. But the letter that actually went out showed him liable for one of the tickets plus the $25, for a total of $388.
According to Kunkaew, management informed him they would not approve of the decision.
“Do you think that’s right?” asked Goldstein.
“No, I do not,” Kunkaew replied.
And that’s not the only time where examiners claim they were pressured into ruling in favor of the city.
Last month, two former traffic examiners sued the city in Superior Court and won close to a half-million dollars in taxpayer money after a jury found the city guilty of firing them because they complained about being forced to change decisions.
Or as Kunkaew put it, those who contest citations are “not receiving the fair shake that they should be receiving.”
Hyung Nick Kim is one of the former examiners who won the case. He says he was pressured to rule in favor of the city so the city would get money, nearly $150 million in parking fines for fiscal year 2015-16.
Attorney David Myers, who won the case, says hearing examiners should be the only ones making decisions.
“The vehicle code is very specific,” said Myers. “The hearing examiners are the ones who are supposed to weigh the evidence to provide a fair and impartial hearing.”
In 2013, the city conducted an investigation into the allegations, and according to notes obtained by CBS2, several examiners claimed they were forced by supervisors like Kenneth Heinsius to change decisions.
Heinsius, who was not involved in the Ochida case, denies ever pressuring examiners, who say he did exactly that, with one saying, “If I find the person liable, my life is a whole lot easier.”
“So, all of those examiners that said those things, implying that you pressured them into changing their decision, they lied?” Goldstein asked.
“Yes,” replied Heinsius.
In the end, city investigators sided with the supervisors, saying they “did not abuse their authority”. But examiners say it’s still going on.
Ochida says he’d like to get his money back.
When told he actually beat two tickets instead of one and asked whether he thinks he got a fair shake, he simply answered, “No.”