City presses parking fines enforcement
By Philip Moulden
A form letter aimed at collecting alleged delinquent parking fines in Tupelo has ordered at least some owners of vehicles involved to appear in municipal court at 9 a.m. today if they want a hearing, attorneys battling the collection process said Monday.
The letters, sent over the signature of court Director Larry P. Montgomery, said persons wanting to contest tickets should appear in person or through an attorney at the designated time.
“Failure to appear at said time and place may result in a default judgment in the amount shown above being entered against you,” a blank copy of the letter said. “You may also be subject to being found in contempt of court and having a warrant issued for you (sic) arrest.”
The letter said people who did not want to contest the tickets should pay the amount owned before the hearing date.
It was not immediately clear how many letters were sent setting today’s hearing date. The letters began arriving at the addresses of those accused as early as Jan. 6, Tupelo attorney Luke Fisher said.
“I’m sure there are different batches (hearing dates) that went out,” Mayor Jack Marshall said Monday.
City officials estimate several hundred people have past-due tickets with fines totaling into the tens of thousands of dollars.
In a November notice sent over the name of Municipal Court Judge Mike Sadler, those accused of payment delinquencies were also given a payment deadline. City officials threatened possible arrest of suspected delinquents and possible immobilization of relevant vehicles, but offered no notice of a hearing.
Sadler later testified that his court intended to send out a second later detailing an appearance procedure for those not responding to the first letter.
But Fisher’s firm, Ellis, Ellis & Fisher, filed suit in U.S. District Court in November on behalf of two dozen citizens challenging the city’s parking ordinances. The plaintiffs contended they were deemed guilty of violations without an opportunity to defend themselves in court. That violated constitutional rights to due process, the lawsuit charged.
The suit also questioned the propriety of Sadler, who would be hearing the cases, of appearing as the enforcer in the initial mailing.
A federal court judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying plaintiffs had not exhausted remedies available through local and state courts before approaching the federal court. Fisher said Monday his clients expect to decide later this week whether to appeal the federal judge’s ruling or carry the lawsuit to a state court.