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Monday, December 06, 2004


Why I hate the Pierce County District Court

Frequent readers of this blog probably saw this coming from a mile a way. Last summer, I received two speeding tickets within weeks of each other. I paid one and, after considering the legal advice of friends, readers and a call girl 3,000 miles away, I ignored the other for over a month. After all, what could Washington do to me, a resident of Oregon, aside from taking away my driving privileges in *that* state? Nevertheless, right around Halloween, a full five weeks after I was pulled over, I broke down and broke out my checkbook.

Why? Because I became convinced that "forgetting" about this whole thing would come back to bite me on the ass. So what happens when you take your time paying a Washington traffic ticket? You receive a letter like this:

Dear customer,

Please read this notice carefully because it contains information on your driving privileges.

Driver and Motor Vehicle Services has received notice form the court named below that you did not appear in court in response to one or more traffic violations. Oregon law requires DMW to take action to suspend your driving privileges when this occurs. As a result, your Oregon driving privileges and your right to apply for driving privileges are suspended beginning at 12:01 AM (one minute after midnight) on the morning of January 5, 2005.

For those reading this that have never has the pleasure of dealing with a highway cop, the typical traffic ticket orders you to pay the fine, pay the fine with a not guilty plea or appear in court, usually at 8 AM on an inconvenient weekday. I had neglected to do any and all of these.

The letter hit my mailbox before the check had time to clear. Apparently, the Oregon DMV and the Pierce County District Court are in cahoots. Not only was a I well on my way to losing my Washington driving privileges, I would soon be forced to buy a bus pass in my home state. To make matters worse, the letter indicated I would need to pay an additional $52 fine for not appearing in court.

Eventually, the check cleared and I called the Oregon DMV. With the fine paid, I no longer had to worry about losing my license. But what about that other $52? Surely, I could get away without paying that.

Wrong! Last Wednesday, another stern letter arrived. This one warned me that if I didn't dish out the extra cash, a second $57 fine and another moratorium on my license would go into immediate effect. I had a mere six days to get another check up to Tacoma. Worse yet, this latest notice didn't include a mailing address.

This sort of nonsense may be legal but that doesn't make it right. No other organization imposes these sort of penalties on past due payments. A $57 fine for a late payment on a $52 fine? Either Pierce County is hard for cash or it has contracted out sectors of its traffic court to Paulie Walnuts.

After running around the internet, I tracked down a number for the PCDC in hopes I could pay it quickly over the phone. It lead to an automated system that spat out a series of random phone numbers. After trying three of them, I finally spoke with a human being who told me to call the original number and dial 0. I followed her instructions and was...put on hold for ten minutes before being disconnected. I tried again, another ten minutes passed and I was disconnected. It was the sort of phone system that makes those belonging to other services and public entities look like a preschool cakewalk in comparison.

With the clock ticking, I went looking for the original letter. I had thoughtfully not thrown it out. The mad dash through rain-soaked Portland traffic to make it to a post office in time for the 5 PM pick-up was pure misery.

With both the fines, both karmic and literal, paid in full, surely, this nightmare has come to an end. Or more, likely, I'll receive another letter will arrive next week and the process will endlessly repeat for several years. Fines on top of fines on top of fines and the sort of strong arm tactics that would make a mafia extortionist proud.

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