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it only happens in Philly
Ronnie Polaneczky: Oh, brother!
A judge threatened a man with arrest if he didn't pay twin's 17-year-old traffic tix
Philadelphia Daily News
SINCE NOVEMBER, Edward Stanley Harris has been paying Philadelphia Traffic Court $100 per month on a bill of $1,811.50 for tickets issued 17 years ago - which the court has admitted aren't even his.
He's paying them off because, he says, a Traffic Court judge said he'd arrest him if he didn't.
Harris, a producer at CN8 Sports, has never been inside a prison cell, and he'd like to keep it that way. So he's writing those monthly checks to Traffic Court.
But he says it's not fair.
Gee, ya think?
This guy's story is one of the wackiest ones I've ever heard, with twists, turns, infuriating judges and - wait for it - a long-lost twin.
If this weren't Philly, you'd assume Harris made up his story.
Alas, this is Philly.
It all started on Aug. 8, 1967, when Edward Stanley Harris and his twin brother, Edwin Shelby Harris, were born. Some might question the wisdom of a mother giving her twin sons, who share the same birth date and home address, such similar names.
At least the kids weren't identical.
All was well until the period between October 1990 and May 1991, when Edwin received eight traffic tickets, on three separate occasions, for moving violations.
In September 1991, Edwin pleaded guilty in Traffic Court to the violations and was ordered to pay $1,501.
Edwin never paid. Over the next 17 years, he fell on hard times, drifted South and stayed in touch with Edward only sporadically.
In the fall of 1992, PennDOT's driver-licensing bureau notified Edward that his license would be suspended for nonpayment of tickets. Realizing that PennDOT had confused him with his twin, Edward went to Philadelphia Traffic Court to straighten things out. The court wrote PennDOT, confirming that the tickets belonged to Edwin, not Edward.
Thankfully, PennDOT withdrew the suspension threat.
Nonetheless, between November 1992 and June 2007, the routine repeated itself, like a scene from "Groundhog Day":
Every year or so, PennDOT re-discovered those same, unpaid tickets of Edwin's, decided they belonged to Edward, and threatened to suspend Edward's license. Each time, Edward returned to Traffic Court, and the suspension threat got lifted.
So Edward assumed the same annoying scenario would repeat itself last Nov. 21, when he took his latest license-suspension notice before Traffic Court Judge Willie Adams. According to Edward, Adams wouldn't listen to his saga or review the copious paperwork that Edward supplied to support his innocence.
Instead, Adams ordered Edward to pay off the tickets - the costs, with fees, had grown to $1,811.50 - at a rate of $100 a month. Edward filed a petition to appeal the decision but also started paying the monthly fee, since, he said, Adams threatened an arrest if he didn't.
Last Thursday, during Edward's appeal hearing at the Criminal Justice Center, the payment order against him was withdrawn. The sympathetic clerk there suggested that Edward go to Traffic Court to get his money back, as it's the only entity that can straighten things out.
And "Groundhog Day" began again.
OK, so it's understandable that PennDOT confused Edward and Edwin the first time. The guys share similar first names, and their middle initials, last name and birth dates are identical. They even shared the same address back in 1991, when they lived at home with their mom.
But there's no excuse for PennDOT's incompetence since then, nor Traffic Court's. As for Judge Adams, his actions are just baffling.
"I am very, very pissed," says Edward, now 40, who estimates that, over the last 17 years, he has made 20 trips to Traffic Court and has lost close to $3,000 in court fees and missed time from work.
"This could be solved if someone felt like fixing it," says Edward, who also has asked City Council members for help, to no avail. "I can't get anyone to care. My biggest fear is that I'll be pulled over for a broken taillight and someone will say my license is suspended and I'll lose my job," which routinely requires him to drive CN8 vehicles.
A staff person for Traffic Court's administrative judge, Bernice DeAngelis, said 10 days ago that the judge would look into Edward's plight. But despite my repeated calls to DeAngelis last week, only silence has come from her 8th and Spring Garden locale.
Nor could I reach Edward's brother, Edwin, at his last known phone number, to ask if he plans to pay off those old tickets any time soon. Y'know, given the nonsense they've caused his twin.
Then again, PennDOT and Philadelphia Traffic Court have had 17 years to fix this for Edward. Instead they keep going after him like he's his brother's keeper.
Or his brother's ATM.
"The people in Traffic Court do their best, but PennDOT is a bloodless bureaucracy, devoid of compassion," says Norristown lawyer and driver's-license expert Basil Beck III, whom I called for advice on Edward's behalf. "This guy needs a lawyer."
And a big, fat apology.