A lowell revenue enhancer — now that’s just the ticket

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It didn’t matter what I said. I could have been talking about the Red Sox or the BP oil spill or the proposed mosque at the site of ground zero in New York City.

The magistrate at the Lowell District Court was not listening. Not one bit. He was simply waiting for me to stop talking before imposing his ruling.

“I’ll reduce the fine from $150 to $100,” he said coldly after listening to my testimony. “You can appeal it before a judge. There’s a $50 fee to appeal. What would you like to do?”

I had just finished explaining that on March 1 of this year, as I was driving up Wamesit Street in Lowell to get to Central Street, I came to a stop sign. The car in front of me had gone three-quarters of the way through the stop sign but stopped abruptly as a car in front of him was backing out of parking space.

That car, I was soon to realize, had just been pulled over by the police. When he proceeded on his way, the car in front of me did likewise and I followed suit.

An officer rushed out into the middle of the street as if he was on fire, pointed at me wildly and shouted, “You! Pull over! Right here! Right here!”

I assumed the same spot as the car that just pulled out.

“License and registration.”

“What’s the problem, officer?”

“Failure to stop at a stop sign. I’ll be right back. Sit tight.”

I replayed the video in my head. Let’s see, the car in front of me stopped, then I stopped. How could I not have stopped? I was stopped. I’m sure I was.

The officer came back to my window and handed me a ticket. All I saw was the little box in the corner that read $150.

“Officer, I was . . .”

“You have 30 days to appeal,” he said and walked backed to the corner where he waited for his next victim.

Willian Lisano is the Lowell District Court magistrate. A serious-looking, silver-haired former Massachusetts State Police trooper who was appointed to his present job in 1993 by Gov. William Weld, Lisano was somebody I thought I could talk to. I was polite. I spoke softly, reasonably. I told him that I have a very good driving record and I really wanted to keep it that way. Here is a guy that will surely understand the situation and what went down that day. I guess not.

I’ve been bagged in the past for traffic violations and I’ve never contested one incident. When I was wrong, I knew I was wrong and I took my lumps. Give me the ticket. I’ll pay it.

But not this time. The two officers that were working the traffic trap on Central Street that day were wrong. I was stopped at that stop sign and I should not have to pay $150, or $100 or even the $25 fee to appeal to the magistrate or the $50 to appeal to a judge. Those two officers weren’t even in Lisano’s office on the day of the hearing.

How is that fair?

On Aug.1, The Sun published an article that detailed the amount of money that pours into the city coffers as a result of traffic tickets. That number has increased by more than 116 percent in the past three fiscal years. The city took in more than $1.7 million from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010.

Drivers are less likely to get out of a ticket with a just a warning, the article says. But it does not say how many tickets are actually overturned on appeal before the magistrate. Judging from my experience, I’m guessing not many.

Dennis Shaughnessey’s e-mail is dshaughnessey@lowellsun.com.