By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
But not to despair entirely. Murphy told me to call Justice of the Peace Court Judge Fletcher Freeman, a man I remember well from covering his mass marriages at the Ballpark when I was a daily reporter. Murphy suggested, and I agreed, that Freeman is the kind of judge who won't just automatically take the shop owners' side from the get-go--a fair-minded jurist with an ear for the little guy.
Judge Freeman was extremely cordial, and he took time to tell me exactly what the procedure would be to go to small claims court and nail the bagel-shop owner. He said first of all you would have to be actually towed, not merely gestured upon with a cell phone. If towed, he said, "you could come to small claims court and sue, alleging wrongful towing."
He made it sound simple: "You would see the clerk and ask for a small claims form. It will ask you for your name, address and phone and the same information for the defendant. Then there is a section where you explain why you are suing."
Total cost? Seventy-two bucks pays the filing fee and for someone to go serve the bagel-shop owner with legal papers. Aha! Wouldn't I like to be a fly on the wall for that scene?
The bagel defendant has approximately 10 days to answer. If he fails to answer in that time, I win by default. I asked: If the bagel miscreant does answer, how long does it take to get this matter to trial?
"Six months to a year and a half," the judge said.
Hmmm. I could be dead by then.
"But if you're right," he said, "it will still cost the other side time and money to respond. So you will get your pound of flesh if nothing else."
Pound of flesh! I like that phrase! From here on out, I will think of him as Judge Fletcher "Pound of Flesh" Freeman.
But what is all this troubling stuff about "if you're right?" Obviously I'm right. We all read Chapter 28, Section 77, "Unauthorized Reserving of Parking Spaces," right? I suppose what Judge Freeman refers to is the possibility that, if I were wrong about the law, and if I were to put the Bagel Fellow in a legal jackpot over it and cost him a pound of flesh, he might sue me back and put me in a jackpot and cost me a pound of flesh, too, for harassing him over nothing. From that perspective, it's an ugly phrase.
So I wound up on the telephone with Lloyd Denman in the city's Public Works and Transportation Department, who agreed right off the bat that "a parking space off a public street cannot be reserved by the adjacent property owner."
He said the key phrase in the code is "use of the street for maneuvering." He explained that if it's head-in parking or even parallel parking where you have to back out or maneuver in any way that puts you in the right of way (the street), they can't reserve it. Head-in parking is the clearest case. You use the street to back out of the parking slot. That means they can't reserve it.
I explained to Denman that I had one tiny reservation about this particular situation. In this case, there are two tiers of parking. One is out along the street. There is no curb. You turn into those slots from the street. Then there is another tier, right up along the curb. You kind of turn in and get to those by driving between the two rows. That is where the offending bagel sign was.
Denman didn't miss a beat. "They can't reserve spots in the outer row," he said, "but I would think the inner row, which does not require you to maneuver in and out of the public right of way, would be fine to reserve."
No. Not fine. Don't say that.
"Well, I think Chapter 28 is fairly straightforward," he insisted. "The second row, closer to the businesses, is all right to reserve."
Sure. And just stick a knife right in my heart while you're at it, Mr. Denman.
The global socio-political and moral issue here--people who try to reserve parking spots that are right off a public street where you have to turn in or back out using the street itself--still stands. We can and must go to Judge Freeman's court or the court of any other JP and sue them blind--sue the blueberry cream cheese right off their whole-wheat bagels.
But my case. My case. My case is dead. The bagel sign is...legal.
(NOTE TO EDITOR: I still get paid this week, right?)