[Continuing from last time.]
The court did not rule in my favor, and i took quite some time to report it here. I'll see what i can remember and put it down here. I think some details will be incorrect, as i waited too long to write them down.
I went to the Oak Park Court building. One person told me to go to Court Room #2. I followed the directions but the nameplate did not match the judge listed. I asked a clerk and found that i should be in Court Room #1.
I walked into the court room just as my name was being called for check-in. I responded affirmatively and took a seat. The judge had not yet entered the room, and the prosecutor was making deals with defendants between his insults at them. Indeed, he asked at one point--out loud--if there was anyone left in the room for him to insult. He cut deals for people who did drugs, drove on suspended license, was caught for underage drinking and bad behavior, and other offenses. He convinced perhaps most to deal, and many more were sent to the next court room. A prisoner was walked in in chains, and there was an effort to clear the court room.
I wasn't in that group. For in my case, i was the one who brought the challenge. Instead we waited for the judge to come in. He wasn't the judge assigned, but it was his nameplate. My case was called first. The prosecutor looked at the file and with a bit of confusion and realized that i brought a challenge. Apparently, challenges of this type are not common. He said to the judge that he'll take care of it, and i was invited into his "office" as the court proceeded without us.
The prosecutor, the owner of the towing company, and myself stepped outside. The prosecutor grabbed a cigarette, lit it, and took a puff or two. It was as if the scene came right out of a B movie. He asked us what the problem was if i already had my car back. I told him that i believed it was incorrectly towed and that i wanted my money back. He asked the owner why the car was taken; he replied the invalid plate. The prosecutor asked asked me if i had plates; i said yes. He asked if it was registered; i said yes. I showed him the registration information, how it was registered a month early. The prosecutor was confused. "A 13-month registration? That isn't normal." He did not seem to realize that one can register early, so the date on a renewal reflects the transaction date and not the registration start date. He mentioned this a few times thought the saga.
He asked the owner why my car was taken if it was registered. The owner seemed slightly uncomfortable, but then turned to me and asked if the tags were on the plate. I said no. The prosecutor said that registration was a two-part process: registration and tag placement. As i had failed to place the tag, it was considered unregistered and i has no case. I asked him if that was what the law said; he said yes. In my mind, he had thus confirmed that he was a liar. I was holding the relevant laws in my hand.
He asked if there were any other issues. I mentioned the towing was quite costly. He tried to convince me that the tower is helping the city, that the costs are justified, and that the judge would never agree with me. At this point, i had to remind myself that he was in salesman mode. I knew he was wrong yet he was still convincing. He asked if i still wanted to press my case, i said yes. Why not? I had already paid; what did i have to lose?
We went back into the court room and my case was soon called. Perhaps it was next, being the prosecutor was back. I sat down, i got up, i went to the podium in front of an old judge. Finally, my case was to be heard.
The prosecutor mentioned the outcome of our fact-finding meeting. He reported the facts accurately with a bit of spin and included his bewilderment at the 13-month registration. A job pretty well done. The judge asked me a question or two, i showed him the certified registration document, and it came down to the question of how could the tower know that my plate was registered. I'm not sure if i actually spoke it out, but i wanted to say that it wasn't my problem. Be that as it may, i did look at the judge and said that the police officer (actually Public Safety in Oak Park) had to, by law, check the car to see if it was stolen. Since he had to pull the record of my registration it should have been clear that i was indeed registered. Ding! The judge seemed a bit taken aback. I'd like to think it is because i looked him straight in the eye when i said it and i had a good point. The judge said they needed to question the officer and asked the prosecutor if he was there. He was not. The prosecutor told him that he could go as this was an easy case or something. The prosecutor asked me if i wanted the case to go to trial or something else (i didn't quite catch what he said). I responded that i had no idea what he meant, and the case was then adjourned for another day when i would have a more formal trial.
I left the court room and spoke to a clerk. We chose a date a few weeks away, this time for 9:00. I thought it went well and was proud that i took a stand.
That's when i should have written this down. Too bad i didn't.
When i parked outside the court house that morning, the owner was slightly ahead of me. He nodded, and we both walked in. We sat in different rows, and we waited. We were called last, which i enjoyed, for the room was empty. We took our seats up front and the trial started with the correct judge.
I was asked to raise my right hand to swear in. I interjected asking if i could affirm. He said yes, and that was what this was. I was asked if i swear or affirmed that i would speak the truth. I said yes and mumbled "i affirm". Not being familiar with the process makes me a bit nervous. I asked the judge if i should be standing, he mentioned that it was an informal and was not needed.
I stated my case and answered the questions much as was done before. The defense did the same when it was their turn.
After the facts were established, the judge asked me what my problem was. I explained that my car was registered as the document proves. The defense produced a tag, similar to the one placed on my car, and mentioned that i could not miss it, that it had a phone number on it, and all i needed was to call them and let them know i was handling it. I mentioned i had driven the car that Tuesday. That seemed to make an impact and the car was obviously operable at the time. I was asked where i parked; i responded that it was not far from the original position, the owner said he wasn't the driver anyway, and it became a moot point. My claim was over; i felt i was registered.
The defense made its claim that registration is only half the process. The judge asked about the law, and the prosecutor (though he was acting as a defendant representing the owner and the Public Safety) offered to hand him his web copy. The judge responded asking for just the section and subsection and looked it up in a book on his desk.
After reading the law that regarding towing and a valid registration plate, he asked me if i had anything else to add. I said no. He then handed down his ruling, speaking calmly as he ruled in their favor, obviously agreeing with the claim that "registered" includes affixing the tag. I picked up my copy of the ruling from a clerk and left.
Overall, i think i did the right thing, and i think i did a reasonable job, but i lacked in that i didn't write down my claims, which may have reminded me to mention that the officer should have looked, and i did not research the prosecutor's claim in the interim of the two court dates.
Given a similar situation, i would probably do the same thing again. Hopefully with lessons learnt.