The Village of Shorewood Hills is paying a Madison law firm $170 per hour to prosecute a $35 parking ticket that was dismissed by a municipal judge, Madison365 has learned.
A Madison mother of Filipino descent dropped her children off at Shorewood Hills Elementary school on Friday, September 13, 2019, and her Kindergartner was having a hard time.
“On the Friday of the first full week of school, my little kid would not go in the building,” said the mother, who asked not to be identified for fear of harassment. “Normally there’s a teacher on duty at drop-off. There’s a circular driveway for drop off, and most parents stop their cars and get out with their kids. … This particular morning there was no drop off attendant, and I couldn’t leave. My child was holding onto the bumper of my car. So I carried my kid in the school, I helped her put away her backpack, and put on her school shoes, and go in the classroom, and then I came back out, and there was a ticket on my car.”
Court records indicate the mother said she left her car unattended for about 15 minutes, during which time a parking ticket was issued. She testified that she had left her hazard lights flashing.
The mother said she asked the village attorney, Kyle Olsen of the firm Stafford Rosenbaum, to dismiss the ticket but he declined to do so, so she went to municipal court.
Following a 20-minute hearing on November 21, Municipal Judge Felice Borisy-Rudin found the mother not guilty and dismissed the ticket, citing state law that says as long as passengers are being picked up or dropped off, a car is not parked.
“It sounds very clear that she had temporarily halted per vehicle, but for the purpose of unloading her child and the entire time that her vehicle was in the carousel,” Borisy-Rudin said in her ruling. “She was in the process of unloading her child and her child’s property and then returned to the vehicle. So because this exception is in the statute, what (she) did would not be considered parking.”
Borisy-Rudin advised Olsen that the village could appeal the ruling to Dane County Circuit Court, but Olsen instead filed a motion for Borisy-Rudin to reconsider her decision. She denied that motion after a 15-minute hearing on December 10.
Olsen argued that it might be reasonable for someone to leave their car for a few minutes to drop off a child at school, but not 15 or more.
“We’ve had conversations with the individuals who are in fact enforcing these parking ordinances,” Olsen said. “And their understanding is that this particular interpretation could have an exponential increase in the number of individuals who are arguing that they are unloading their children for an indefinite period of time and would permit parking in this school zone, potentially indefinitely. Which would make it very difficult for police officers to do their job, which would also make it difficult for law-abiding parents to drop off their children safely.”
“I understand your and the Village’s concern. And having been on the legislative side of this Village in the past, I am aware of many of the fixes that could be made,” said Borisy-Rudin, a former member of the Shorewood Hills Village Board. “But it is not my job as the court, to suggest what those legislative fixes are. There are certainly ways that either the Village ordinance or the Village signs, could be rewritten in order to only permit a specific amount of time for any vehicle to be stopped.”
But rather than apply such a fix at this point, the Village has appealed the decision to the Dane County Circuit Court. They’re paying Stafford Rosenbaum $170 per hour. It’s not clear how many hours the firm has put in on this case, or how many more it will put in.
In 2019, the Village budgeted $29,000 for the firm to prosecute municipal tickets, and another $17,000 for general counsel.
That’s in addition to court fees — the village paid $129 to file the appeal of the dismissal of the $35 ticket.
Village Administrator Karl Frantz said it’s about more than just collecting this one ticket.
“The village really needs clarification on its ability to write tickets in no-parking zones,” Frantz said. “If somebody can leave their car for 20 minutes, we need to change all of our ordinances. We don’t want to be issuing tickets that we shouldn’t be issuing. We don’t really want to be punitive to people, we just want people to be able to get in and out (of the school drop-off zone).”
Frantz said it’s an unusual situation.
“It is pretty odd to see a minor infraction go through the circuit court,” he said.
The Village has until February 21 to file its briefs, and the mother has until March 6 to respond, after which a hearing will be scheduled or a written decision issued.
For her part, the mother involved said she didn’t appreciate being contrasted with other “law-abiding parents” in open court.
“I’m sure that those comments were intended to highlight the fact that I am not a typically wealthy white Shorewood Hills resident,” she said. “I am a single mother, I am a Brown lady.”
She said she intends to respond to the Village and see the process through, but will be “glad when this is all behind me,” she said. “I’m not going think about it unless I have to.”
Olsen has since left Stafford Rosenbaum and taken a job in the Dane County District Attorney’s Office. Neither he nor Kyle Engelke, who is now representing the village, responded to requests for comment.