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thedrifter
08-01-07, 01:28 PM
Law prof: White Plains illegally took Marine vehicle
By RICHARD LIEBSON
THE JOURNAL NEWS

(Original publication: August 1, 2007)

WHITE PLAINS - The Marines have a not-so-secret weapon in their battle with the city Parking Department over unpaid parking tickets but are choosing not to use it.


It's called the U.S. Constitution.


"Under the Constitution, state or local governments can't take federal property," Pace University Law professor Ralph Stein said of the scofflaw standoff between Marine recruiters, who've racked up more than $90,000 in unpaid parking fines on some 2,000 tickets, and White Plains Parking Commissioner Albert Moroni, who has impounded a Marine Corps car and said it will be auctioned in September unless the money is paid.


"Maybe the city hasn't heard of Fort Sumter," Stein joked, referring to the Charleston, S.C., federal fort that was fired upon by South Carolina troops in the opening battle of the Civil War.


Stein, a former Army counterintelligence officer, said the Marines are covered by "sovereign immunity," which protects federal agencies from legal actions without its consent.


"No agency of the U.S. government, including the military, can be forced to pay for parking summonses," Stein said.


"The city can write all the tickets it wants to on federally owned vehicles, but it can't make them pay."


Stein said federal agencies often make cooperative agreements with local governments on issues such as parking fines to avoid bad blood. That hasn't been the case in White Plains, where, Moroni said, federal agencies in general and Marine recruiters in particular have ignored thousands of tickets written on 26 cars with federal license plates and owe more than $111,000 in fines. He said he's ordered any federal scofflaw vehicle found in the city to be towed and vows to auction them off if the fines aren't paid.


Meanwhile, the Marines have pulled all of their "scofflaw cars" - those with more than three outstanding tickets issued within an 18-month period - out of White Plains.


And while the city may not have a legal leg to stand on in the standoff, Marine Capt. Donald A. Caetano, public affairs officer for the 1st Marine Corps Recruiting District, said the devil dogs don't plan to defend their errant parkers.


"As a matter of law, the professor may very well be correct," Caetano said of Stein's comments. "However, the Marine Corps has a long tradition of upholding our nation's laws and standards and of striving to be upstanding members of the community. We are still in discussions with White Plains and we are committed to rectifying this issue."


Moroni, who has described himself as "a reluctant warrior" in the scofflaw battle, said he's hopeful there will be parking peace with honor.


"We're looking for the same thing Capt. Caetano is looking for," he said. "We all want a way to resolve this problem amicably, and I think that can be accomplished."

Reach Richard Liebson at rliebson@lohud.com or 914-694-3534.

Ellie