Chalking Tires: Is an $80 Parking Ticket Headed to the U.S. Supreme Court?

Chalking tires cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

I wrote a story about a month ago urging fancy New York lawyers to do pro bono work to help protect our local towns and villages. Over and over again, the legal lions of Manhattan find loopholes where local lawyers did not, with the result that the locals have to do something that chips away at something the locals hold dear.

The poster child of this involved a New Yorker with a Bridgehampton oceanfront mansion who was able to get a decision some years ago preventing locals from driving down a sand road owned by the town but adjacent to the side of his property to a beach owned by the town, and without ever leaving town property. Town lawyers repeatedly had issues about who would show up in court to defend the matter, and the New York beachfront homeowner eventually got a default judgment as the judge, tired of getting no defense, inflicted a decision some saw as punishment. A bar is across that sand road today.

In another case, a group of oceanfront homeowners in Napeague fought using fancy lawyers for years to get a mile of oceanfront beach declared private property, claiming that in a deed leading from one ownership to another a 150 years ago, somebody failed to mention that the property was still public. A judge was unconvinced, an appeals judge was unconvinced, and Acting Justice of the New York State Supreme Court the Hon. Ralph T. Gazzillo was unconvinced. Though unknown sums of money, perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, were spent, the beaches there are still open to the public. But maybe there’s still more appeals to come. The prosecution just needs one friendly judge.

As I write this, however, another gauntlet has just been laid down by a fancy New York lawyer. It involves the chalk that traffic control officers apply to tires of parked cars using a long wooden stick. If you overstay the time limit and the chalk mark is still in the same position on your tire it was when applied, the assumption is that you never moved, and so get a ticket. Happened to me a few weeks ago. I sent the town the $80.

On July 15, Manhattan attorney Jay Goldberg, instead of sending in the $80, was in East Hampton court to challenge the constitutionality of the chalking practice. Goldberg has represented many well known figures, including Donald Trump. He had parked his car in front of the East Hampton Cinema so he and his wife could watch the movie Rocketman there. When he came out of the theater, there was an $80 parking ticket on his car. Rocketman is 2 hours and 5 minutes long, and whether he knew that or not was not the issue, and whether he dawdled in front of the popcorn counter or not was not the issue, and whether an overeager traffic control officer pounced with the chalk immediately after they went inside to buy their ticket or not was not the issue.

The issue was that putting chalk on his tire has been considered by some an illegal search of personal property, and such a determination was made about chalking tires in Saginaw, Michigan by an appeals court overturning a lower court declaration that it was legal. Now it is the law of the land, at least in the state of Michigan, and any tickets issued based on chalked tires will be thrown out in the villages and towns of that state henceforth.

And this is the same thing at issue here.

“The towns really rely on chalking for overtime parking unless the town has meters,” Goldberg said to the Sag Harbor Express.

Fighting an $80 parking ticket in this way is like throwing a few warm-up pitches in the bullpen before going out to deal with the other team’s sluggers. It is small potatoes. But here it is.

Goldberg, acting as his own lawyer, will not have to spend the thousands upon thousands of dollars prosecuting this that the village will have to spend defending it. Is it worth it? The result could be the return of the ugly rows and rows of parking meters to the towns and villages of the Hamptons, which we used before we went to chalking.

Now’s the time for a fancy New York lawyer to step in and, superhero fashion, take over the defense of the village chalking practice, pro bono.

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