CHARLESTON – Drivers who ignore parking tickets commit a crime and subject themselves to arrest, the state Supreme Court of Appeals has decided.
The Dec. 2 decision clears the way for arraignment and prosecution of Lea Anne Hawkins, who collected 377 parking tickets in Fairmont, and Gretchen Mezzanotte, who collected 94.
The justices affirmed Marion Circuit Judge Fred Fox, who ruled that municipal judge Anthony Julian could exercise criminal jurisdiction over Hawkins and Mezzanotte.
The justices relied on an 1898 decision that, "Violation of the public ordinances of cities, towns, and villages are strictly criminal in nature, being offenses against the public, and not merely private wrongs."
Fairmont police ticketed Hawkins about once a day in 2006. They ticketed Mezzanotte about twice a week.
Hawkins and the city executed an amnesty agreement, calling for payment of $3,801.
Mezzanotte and the city executed an amnesty agreement for $724.
They fell behind on their payments and received notices to appear before Julian.
Neither appeared, and Julian issued arrest warrants.
Police took them into custody, and Julian scheduled their arraignments.
Hawkins and Mezzanotte filed a petition in circuit court, to cancel the arraignments.
Fox denied relief but stayed the municipal court proceeding so they could appeal.
Hawkins and Mezzanotte argued to the justices that West Virginia Code does not define parking violations as criminal offenses.
They argued that forfeiture of the amnesty agreements was a civil contractual matter. They argued that the agreements afforded the city a remedy by authorizing police to tow or immobilize their vehicles.
Each ticket, however, specified that remedies might include an arrest warrant.
"This language plainly notifies the appellants that they were to answer for violating the public parking ordinances of the City of Fairmont," Chief Justice Spike Maynard wrote. "The subsequent execution of the amnesty agreement, regardless of how that agreement is characterized, did not alter in any way the criminal nature of the appellants' violations or change these violations into a civil matter."
He wrote that a municipal judge has the same authority as a magistrate to issue an arrest warrant for a defendant who fails to appear before the court in response to a summons.
The opinion identified Mezzanotte as deputy circuit clerk of Marion County.
Boyd Warner of Clarksburg represented Julian and the municipal court. Frances Whiteman of Fairmont represented Hawkins and Mezzanotte.