Politicians ignoring parking tickets

October 15, 2013

No one likes to get a parking ticket and we all do our bit to avoid it one way or another. Politicians and judges often try to get away from paying their parking fines and dodge the law by using their position. All’s well when they succeed, but it can prove embarrassing if the police don’t buy their story.

For instance, Representative Louie Gohmert from Texas didn’t see what was coming when he tried to pull rank to avoid paying a parking ticket near the Lincoln Memorial. He had parked in a spot reserved for National Park Service vehicles. When U.S. Park Police officers noticed the violation and wrote him a citation, Gohmert protested.

According to Politico, Gohmert argued that his congressional parking placard allowed him to park in reserved spots. Plus, as a member for the House Committee on Natural Resources serving on its subcommittee on national parks, he oversees the agency.

parking ticket violator Representative Louie Gohmert

Representative Louie Gohmert

D.C. law permits congressmen to park in any available curb space in the city when they are on official business. According to the police report, Gohmert said that he was going to a meeting on the Hill. If so, then why was he parking near the Lincoln Memorial?

Gohmert’s communications director, Kimberly Willingham, said that the congressman had dinner with family that particular evening and then decided to drive them to the memorial. She also stated, “The park service officer said he had not noticed the 5” x 10” Congressional plate in the front window and would not know what it meant had he seen it. The officer accepted the ticket back and apologized.”

The police report does not mention an officer apologizing to Gohmert, nor does it clarify the fate of the parking violation. The report does mention Gohmert telling the officers, before driving off, that he left his business card with the ticket and that he would not pay for it. All this for a $25 parking fine.

Gohmert isn’t the only public official attempting to evade paying parking tickets. A slightly larger amount – $269.59 for 3 parking tickets – was at stake in the case of Pennsylvania judge, Kelly Ballentine. According to NBC News, she dismissed the tickets that were given to her by city police (December 2010 and January 2011) in her own court.

The law has caught up with her at least. Chester County judge Charles Smith fined magisterial district court judge Ballentine $1,500 for fixing her own parking tickets after she pleaded guilty. She had been charged with three misdemeanor counts of tampering with public records, which carries a two-year prison sentence.

Assistant Attorney General Anthony Forray  talked about how Ballentine “was given a certain amount of trust, and she abused that trust.” This abuse of public office may still prove heavy for her. The state Judicial Conduct Board is in the process of evaluating Ballentine’s status as a district judge. Disbarment may be the outcome. Although Ballentine is repentant, she may have to pay a heavier price than the one she tried to dodge.

parking ticket violator Kelly Ballentine

Kelly Ballentine, via

Similarly, Gohmert may suffer if the people of his district decide that they do not want a person who oversteps rules for personal gain representing them in Congress. A D.C. watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has called for an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation.

CREW’s executive director, Melanie Sloane, said that Gohmert engaged in conduct that violated the first rule of the House Code of Official Conduct. The rule states that a member should conduct himself at all times in a manner that would reflect creditably on the House.

Statistics suggest that many congressmen do not do so, at least when it comes to paying parking tickets. A Roll Call survey of vehicles parked on Capitol Hill found that legislators had racked up a minimum of $15,000 in outstanding parking tickets.

Some congressmen did pay their parking tickets after being contacted for the survey. But the media, citizen watchdog groups, and the public all need to keep an eye on public officials to clamp down on misuse of office.

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Category: Regulations

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