ACKMAN LAW OFFICE                                                      WRITER-AT-LARGE



May 24, 2001

An arrogant TLC abuses drivers


No one at the Taxi and Limousine Commission is taking cash in brown paper bags, as far as we know. The corruption at the agency is more insidious and more common, the kind that grows where power is absolute and law is absent.

It has been one year since state Supreme Court Justice Stanley Parness ordered the TLC to open its courts to the public. Parness' order was like lifting a rock from the forest floor: All manner of insects have been exposed.

Take the case of Richard Travers Smith. On March 14, he joined a line of cabs at the Marriott Marquis Hotel. When the doorman whistled for him, Smith rolled forward. A well-dressed white man knocked on his rear window. Smith gestured he was already responding to the doorman. The man smiled and backed away. A moment later, another man banged on his window: a TLC inspector who accused Smith of refusing service to the first man. He confiscated Smith's taxi, took his hack license and suspended him on the spot.

Throwing drivers out of work without a hearing is unconstitutional. A federal judge has so ruled. But the TLC, under its chairwoman, Diane McGrath-McKechnie, continues the practice.

Ask any cabbie, and he'll tell you that when drivers do get a hearing, TLC judges routinely disregard their testimony. The agency responds that they're sore losers. But a foray I took into the courts says the drivers are right.

Consider the case of Mamoun Hammouri, who was accused of refusing service to three men. Hammouri presented his trip sheet, evidence that he had a fare when the men tried to hail him. He also presented a character witness: Janet McAnn, a nun whose life he had saved after she collapsed in the back of his taxi.

The TLC judge ruled against Hammouri anyway, calling his testimony "not credible or convincing." As for the nun, the judge called her testimony credible but ruled that "the driver's good deeds on previous trips are not a defense."

TLC courts hold more than 80,000 hearings a year. Judges are handpicked by the agency and work on a per diem basis. If the TLC doesn't like a judge's rulings, it can fire him or, even simpler, not rehire him the next month. It's no surprise the agency rarely loses. The TLC says its conviction rate is 75%. But that understates its success, since inspectors often issue multiple summonses and settle for winning two out of three. Of the few cases that are appealed, the TLC wins 94%.

The TLC's brand of justice escapes public notice because cabbies have no voice and most of the agency's transgressions seem small. But the offenses pile up. It's time to stop the madness.

Ackman filed the lawsuit that forced the Taxi and Limousine
Commission to open its hearings to the public.




ACKMAN LAW OFFICE                                                      WRITER-AT-LARGE