Mike Perlstein / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS -- For many New Orleans drivers, they are a painful cost of using city streets: those little orange parking tickets and their more expensive cousins, red-light camera tickets.
Parking fines start at $20, while the camera violations run more than $100.
City employees fall under the same laws, even when they're on the job driving city vehicles. In a statement, the city said employees and officials must 'either pay the citation or have an administrative hearing just like a regular citizen.'
But city records show that of the parking and traffic camera tickets received by city employees and officials since 2009, more than half of the tickets have been dismissed and the fines waived.
In response to a public records request from 4 Investigates asking for amount of the fines waived, the city provided these numbers: Since 2009, the city has collected $3,535 in parking fines from employees, but has waived $29,255. For traffic camera tickets, the city collected $11,495, but waived $12,785.
Former Assistant City Attorney Ed Washington said he was surprised by the dollar amount in tickets waived for city vehicles.
'It's somewhat of a mystery to me,' Washington said. 'I'm surprised to hear that dollar amount.'
Washington is fighting an ongoing lawsuit seeking to throw out the red-light camera tickets. From his years at City Hall, Washington says some people who drive city vehicles have ways of getting off the hook.
'It can happen,' he said. 'It can happen where the city employee doesn't just follow the exact black letter of the law.'
Channel 4 filed a public records request for the names of the city drivers who had their tickets dismissed, but the city attorney's office said it would be 'overly burdensome to retrieve the records.'
The city did say that most city vehicles with traffic camera tickets involved emergency vehicles with flashing lights. But when Channel 4 went to the NOPD traffic division to find out how the ticketing violation review process worked, officers showed us that tickets for emergency vehicles are already tossed out before violations are ever issued.
Madro Banderies, another attorney who has contested numerous traffic camera tickets in court, said the dismissal of city tickets represents 'a double standard.'
'It goes to due process,' Banderies said. 'When the city on its own initiative can apparently waive the tickets, they're creating a special class of people: city employees who are in city vehicles that are not having to pay this.'
While the city wouldn't reveal what public employees had their tickets dismissed, local drivers we interviewed on the street were not shy about voicing their opinions.
One woman commented, 'The point is to get people to drive safer on the streets, and if they're not enforcing them universally, what's the point of having them in the first place?'
Another local driver, Sholanda, said, 'That just shocked me. That's not fair. Because I got a ticket at that exact corner and I came to a complete stop. And I went to get it appealed and they told me no, I can't have it appealed.'
The city would not make anyone available for an interview for this story.
As for the records they wouldn't produce, the city attorney's office has said for several weeks that their retrieval would be 'too burdensome because they are stored off-site in unmarked boxes.'
But after denying multiple requests, the city recently provided 10 recent letters from employees requesting waivers of parking tickets, all from police officers.
The city still has not produced any of the waiver letters for the more expensive and more controversial traffic camera tickets.