Judge parks in hot water

Officials' illegal use of handicapped spaces draws fire

`A bad example'

March 11, 2000|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

The handicapped space was clearly marked, but the judge parked there anyway.

Soon his car had company: Two sheriff's deputies parked in a neighboring handicapped space.

Howard County Circuit Judge James B. Dudley said yesterday that he would have paid a ticket if deputies had written him one. Instead, the two law enforcement officers got out of their car and walked past his, carrying a takeout dinner into their office next to the courthouse in Ellicott City.

Dudley, who is not disabled, said he parked in the spot about 4: 50 p.m. Thursday to be closer to the courthouse. He needed to run some errands, he said, and he was concerned that jurors deliberating on a first-degree murder case over which he was presiding might have questions for him.

"I don't park there during the day," Dudley said. "I had it there to make a quick getaway. I probably park there twice a year if I'm in the middle of a murder trial.

"That's probably not a justification."

From 4: 50 p.m. until about 11 p.m. Thursday, Dudley's Lincoln Town Car was parked under a sign indicating that he faced a $98 fine for leaving his vehicle there.

"If I had gotten a ticket, I would have paid it," said the judge, who has a reserved parking space in the lot.

About 6 p.m., an unmarked sheriff's vehicle parked next to Dudley's car in another handicapped spot. Howard County Sheriff Charles M. Cave said the officers likely were dropping something off. It's unclear how long the car was parked there, but Dudley says he saw a similar gray car parked in the spot when he left that night.

It is illegal to park in a handicapped space at any time if you do not have a permit to do so, Cave said, but deputies generally don't ticket violators after hours or on weekends. Cave said he wouldn't expect his deputies to write Dudley a ticket for parking there after the courthouse closed.

"Lots of people park there after hours," Cave said. "There's nobody here to use them."

Dudley and the deputies parked a few spaces away from a blue car that had handicapped plates and a handicapped permit hanging from the rearview mirror, leaving three empty handicapped spaces.

Yesterday afternoon, all the handicapped spots were occupied by cars displaying the proper tags and permits.

Advocates for the disabled criticized Dudley and the sheriff's deputies for parking in the spaces.

"It's a bad example for a judge to set," said Melissa Kasnitz, a staff attorney for Disability Rights Advocates, a national organization that fights for the rights of the disabled.

"If you have people in authority so blatantly disregarding the obligation to reserve accessible parking for those who need it, they set a horrible example for people at that mall who don't want to walk farther to do their shopping," she said.

Dudley and Cave said that the judge and deputies didn't take spaces away from the disabled because the parking lot was nearly empty.

"Then there were probably plenty of other spaces for them to use," Kasnitz said.

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