DANVERS — A judge has rejected the appeal of a Lynnfield woman who was slapped with a $300 ticket for parking her Mercedes SUV in a handicapped space outside BJ's Wholesale Club so she could run in to retrieve a credit card in the pouring rain.
Janice Eberle took Danvers to court last spring after the parking clerk, Stephen Delaney, refused to dismiss her ticket, which she received on March 30, 2010.
In his ruling Monday, Newburyport Superior Court Judge Robert Cornetta affirmed Delaney's May 4, 2010 decision and gave Eberle until July 7 to pay the violation. Cornetta did not award court costs to either party.
Eberle never denied she parked in the handicapped space. She never claimed she had a handicapped parking placard or plate. The town and the judge, however, said despite some hardships she was facing at the time — heavy rain, the need to retrieve a credit card, a basement full of water and recent shoulder surgery — she had no right to park where she did.
Cornetta asked rhetorically what the value of an illegally occupied handicapped space is to a disabled person who needs it.
"Obviously, since these exclusive spaces must be available instantly for the accommodation of a disabled person, the answer is 'none,'" Cornetta wrote.
Janice Eberle's husband, Robert Eberle, said yesterday he accepts the judge's decision.
However, this was not a case of a rich woman who makes it a habit of parking in a handicapped space, he said, nor was it about someone going on a shopping spree. The Mercedes SUV in question has about 200,000 miles on it and is about 12 years old, he said.
"I've been married to my wife for 25 years, and she has never parked in a handicapped space," Eberle said.
Instead, his wife had plenty of "extenuating circumstances."
According to Robert Eberle, a heavy rain storm brought down a tree in their neighborhood, and with no power for the sump pump, the basement filled with 2 feet of water. While Robert Eberle hauled stuff up from the basement, Janice Eberle, who had recently undergone rotator cuff surgery, found a generator at BJ's.
After making her purchases, she forgot her credit card in the store, and then she ran in to retrieve it, parking in a designated handicapped space. By all accounts, she was in the store about five minutes.
When she appealed, Robert Eberle says, the parking clerk, Delaney, did not even look at the evidence of her surgery or the loss in the family's basement.
That despite language on the town's website that led the family to think he should have: "We are aware, however, that there may be significant circumstances unknown to the Parking Enforcement Officer which could perhaps mitigate the ticket."
While Robert Eberle accepts the judge's finding, he said: "The town of Danvers ought to change its website."
However, another part of the Danvers website states: "Tickets will be issued to any vehicles parked in a handicap-designated parking area without the proper handicap license plate or placard issued by the Registry of Motor Vehicles."
"It's consistent with the way we saw it," Delaney said yesterday.
Delaney said he tries to be fair, but in this case he did not feel he had any alternative. He dismisses only a few handicapped space violations each year, and it is usually because the motorist had a placard or plate but failed to display it.
"I'm pleased with the decision of the court," Delaney said.
The case drew national media attention and some unwanted attention to the Eberles. Robert Eberle said he feels his wife has been portrayed unfairly. He said his family has received death threats, and on hindsight, it was a mistake to appeal.
"I don't want derogatory comments made about my wife," Eberle said.
The town had asked the courts to dismiss the appeal, saying Janice Eberle failed to meet a court deadline.
Later, Janice Eberle, who originally filed the complaint on her own, engaged a lawyer to fight the town's motion and have the case heard, and Cornetta agreed to hear it "since the subject matter of the plaintiff's complaint is likely to replicate itself in the future."
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DanverSalemNews.