If you own a car, you might share the horrible feeling I get every so often when I walk out of the Real Change office in Pioneer Square and find a parking ticket on my windshield.
It's like someone stabbed me in the stomach. Suddenly, I'm drained of blood and gasping for air.
I always swear I'll do better. But when I racked up two more tickets not too long ago, I realized I was in trouble. I couldn't pay my electric bill, let alone $80 in tickets. So I decided to try something most people don't even know about: I'd work off the tickets through community service.
Instead of jail time or fines, judges at the Seattle Municipal Court can sentence people to perform tasks like sweeping and mopping at nonprofit organizations. But you have to know to ask the judge. And you must be low income -- a new change that the Municipal Court just started March 23. The court is now demanding that drivers show copies of welfare or Social Security paperwork to prove their income is less than 125 percent of the federal poverty line, or $13,538 for one person.
I make more than that, but I slipped in before March 23. Here's what I did.
On the back of my parking tickets, I checked the box to request a hearing to explain my circumstances to a lower-level judge known as a magistrate. When my day came at the Justice Center, a magistrate called me into her office. I sat down and blurted out that I was having trouble paying my bills and wanted community service.
The judge looked stunned. All the same, she wrote out a slip of paper reducing my fine to $50. The court pays $10 an hour for community service, so my sentence was five hours.