Things I learned about Wally

August 18, 2007|By GREGORY KANE

The letter came with a return address of the Baltimore District Court in the window.

Not a good sign.

Fortunately, the letter was addressed to "H., Wally," at my house in Northwest Baltimore. My wife handed me the letter and lamented that she hates getting summons sent to our address.

"I ain't Wally, so I ain't worried," I answered.

But old Wally H. (we're omitting the last name for the sake of Wally's privacy) got four other pieces of mail sent to my house the same day the summons came. One was from the law offices of P. Paul Cocoros, the second from the law office of Edwin S. MacVaugh, the third from the law offices of Boles and Minkove, and the fourth from a sender with no name given on the envelope. All the letters, except for the one from MacVaugh, had "this is an advertisement" written on the front.

The last I checked, only my wife and I live at the address in question. We like it that way. We plan to keep it that way, God willing, for some time to come. Wally H. sure as heck doesn't live there, so why was he getting mail at my house?

This required some investigating. But I couldn't open Wally's mail; it wasn't addressed to me. But thank heavens I'm finally getting the hang of this computer stuff. I trudged right up the stairs to my computer and logged on to that old reliable Web site www.courts. state.md.us. I plugged in Wally's name and learned that at 1 a.m. on July 28, a Baltimore police officer stopped him in the 3100 block of Sequoia Ave. and gave him a citation for "driving/attempting to drive a motor vehicle on the highway without required license or authorization."

Under the heading "defendant information," Wally's date of birth was listed as May 10, 1958. (That means he was born about the time a certain television show whose main characters were named Ward, June, Wally and the Beave was wrapping up its first season. (What do you want to bet that Wally's mother had a serious thing going for Leave It To Beaver?) Wally's height is 5 feet, 7 inches and his weight 150 pounds.

His address was listed as the dwelling where I live.

I called the District Court at Wabash Avenue and explained that I live there. Wally does not. The clerk asked for Wally's full name and plugged the data into her computer.

"I don't see anything coming up," she said. "I don't see any active cases for that individual."

Hmm. According to www.courts.state.md.us, the District Court for Baltimore City has "active case" as the status for this particular citation. Clearly, this clerk was not consulting that particular Web site, which apparently has more current and accurate information than whatever computer file she was looking at.

So according to the District Court for Baltimore City, Wally H. committed no traffic infraction on July 28, 2007. That's got to be good news for Wally. But it didn't answer my question about why the summons for the infraction that apparently never happened came to my house. And what about those four letters from the law firms? How did they know Wally had a traffic summons and might be shopping for a lawyer?

I called Cocoros' office and talked to a woman named Stephanie Rayor. She said she's been working in the office for about four months and that as far as she knows, the District Court sends address labels of traffic scofflaws to lawyers, who then send ads by letter seeking potential clients. Roxann Stark at Boles and Minkove gave a few extra details. Lawyers don't use labels; they use a list.

"We buy the list from the state," Stark said. "The state sells it. [The state] apparently makes a few different lists. We do a mailing."

Darrell Pressley, a spokesman for the Maryland judiciary, said the list is called the "Serious Citation Report" and that it is available for lawyers to buy. Stark said the mailings from the Boles and Minkove office are based strictly on addresses provided on the report.

"Seven out of 10 times they're wrong," Stark said of the addresses. "Sometimes people never get their mail."

People like, say, Wally.

Actually, 70 percent isn't a bad percentage, given that some people may be transient or provide misleading information to police officers. And the data on the www.courts.state.md.us Web site isn't perfect. My date of birth for a 1999 traffic incident is listed as Dec. 5, 1951. I was born Dec. 29, 1951.

Clerical errors like getting the wrong numbers in birth dates and addresses are bound to happen from time to time. On May 30, another Baltimore police officer stopped Wally in the 3800 block of W. Belvedere Ave. and gave him a citation for driving with a suspended license. Wally's address for that offense is listed as a house 10 doors down from mine.

My wife had the mail carrier tote the five letters 10 doors down the block in hopes that Wally lives at that address. But what a difference one number can make.

gregory.kane@baltsun.com

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