Judge gives up fight over parking ticket

Melnick pays the $15 after learning no local judge wanted to hear case

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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Saying it's in the interest of the public, Clark County Superior Court Judge Rich Melnick has given up his fight with the city of Vancouver over a $15 parking ticket he received Nov. 30 outside the Vancouver Community Library.

Melnick was scheduled to have a hearing Friday to contest the parking ticket. He said he decided to pay it in full Wednesday after he learned from a court administrator that all of Clark County's judges and court commissioners had recused themselves from hearing his case.

That's not surprising. Melnick has been a judge since April 2004 and a prosecutor before that. He is well-known in the legal community and admired by some for his charitable work. He ladles out free Thanksgiving and Christmas meals on those holidays at Chronis' Restaurant & Lounge, among other activities. Judges are required to recuse themselves if they feel they can't make an unbiased decision.

Melnick is an avid reader, and the public library is one of his haunts. He said he had put a book on reserve at the Vancouver Community Library. On Nov. 30, he went to the library to fetch it from the reserved bookshelf. He said he parked his vehicle on the side of Evergreen Boulevard, which has meters, but forgot to press the button on the meter that provides a complimentary 20 minutes.

"I was in there for four minutes, and you get 20 minutes' free parking," he said.

When he emerged from the library, a city meter attendant was writing him a parking ticket. He said he tried to explain the situation, but the attendant gave him a ticket anyway. He said she handed him the ticket instead of placing it on his windshield. In his interpretation of law, handing a parking ticket to someone is the improper way to serve someone, because there had been no verification that the vehicle was his. The ticket should have been placed on the windshield, he said.

The Vancouver Parking Department didn't immediately respond Friday afternoon to a phone call requesting comment.

Without a local judge to hear his case, the county's District Court would have had to bring in a visiting judge from one of the surrounding counties. The county courthouse has a reciprocal agreement with neighboring counties to hear each other's cases, but they pay 56.5 cents per mile for a visiting judge to travel to hear cases outside their jurisdiction, according to the Clark County District Court administration.

In Melnick's case, that means the county would have had to pay a judge from Skamania or Cowlitz counties about $50 to resolve a $15 parking ticket.

"I'm not going to allow taxpayers' money to go toward fighting my $15 parking ticket, even though I know I'm right," he said. "It was just easier to pay."