Parking problems are a perennial gripe of D.C. residents, but you know things have spiraled out of control when D.C. courts start accepting parking alibis in criminal cases. Mark Thompson, head of the Umoja party and former at-large D.C. Council candidate, was on trial in 1994 for blocking the entrance to the Capitol during D.C. statehood protests. On the day of his appearance before Judge Russell F. Canan, he showed up 50 minutes late. The perturbed judge noted that “this is at least…[the] fourth or fifth time in the course of Mr. Thompson’s many appearances before this court that he has been late, without even presenting anything remotely passing as a satisfactory excuse.” In his defense, Thompson whined that he had arrived at the courthouse on time but couldn’t find parking. The judge found Thompson guilty of contempt and condemned him to 50 hours of community service and six months’ probation. When Thompson appealed the decision, the D.C. Court of Appeals took pity on Thompson’s parking difficulties and reversed the ruling. The court deemed Thompson’s past tardiness irrelevant and said there was insufficient evidence to prove he acted willfully and wrongfully. Happy to be free, Thompson admits he’s been “maybe a few moments late on a few occasions” in the past, but maintains that Canan was “making a mountain out of a molehill.”
In spite of criticism from parents’ groups, officials from the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) are standing by their grand plan to generate a bidding war on 70 school properties slated for the auction block. So you might expect Gen. Julius Becton and Co. to be plastering real estate ads all over the city. To date, though, only a few notices for the Prospect/Wormley School in Georgetown have appeared in the Washington Times’ skimpy classifieds section, announcing that competing bids must be filed by May 9. No ads have run in the Washington Post, since DCPS is on the paper’s blacklist until it makes good on an overdue bill. “We couldn’t do any advertising with them until it got settled,” says DCPS procurement staffer Rebecca Bourne. If no other bids surface, DCPS will negotiate exclusively with the sole bidder. With the deadline looming, school officials say they plan to straighten out their accounting problem and advertise in the Post in the coming weeks.
Parking-meter vandalswho cost the city an estimated $3.1 million last yearhave dethroned car burglars as Public Enemy No. 1 in the cash-starved District. But even though the police suspect an organized-crime ring behind the madness, the crooks have found friends at the ACLU. The omnipresent defenders of liberty have chimed in against a bill recently introduced by Councilmember Harold Brazil to slam the bashers with a three-month mandatory-minimum sentence for whacking the tops off meters. “A mother might be breaking into a parking meter to get money for food,” explains Mary Jane DeFrank, executive director of the local ACLU chapter. “The bill is bad because the judge couldn’t consider the individual circumstances.” Under current law, meter muggers face a possible three years in jail or a $3,000 fine. “[The ACLU] always seems to come when we increase penalties for criminals, not when reasonably innocent people are affected by lost revenue, such as schoolchildren,” says a Brazil aide.