Saltman Center Clinics: Parking Arbitration Program Offers Students Valuable Experience

November 01, 2018

At the end of a long day of classes, you return to your vehicle looking forward to a relaxing drive home. Except when you slide into the driver’s seat and look up, you find a parking citation staring at you from the other side of the windshield. All of a sudden you go from relaxed to angry, because not only are you certain the citation was issued in error, you’re certain there’s little chance of getting it rescinded—after all, when does the issuer of a ticket ever cop to a mistake?

Well, if the above scenario takes place in a UNLV-monitored parking lot, you actually do have a legitimate recourse option. Thanks to a partnership between UNLV Parking & Transportation Services and the Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution, those who receive on-campus parking citations can dispute them through the Parking Appeals Arbitration program.

Started more than a decade ago, this program brings together aggrieved drivers and Parking Services, both of whom present their cases to a UNLV Law student arbitrator. All Boyd students are eligible to apply to work as an arbitrator, provided they aren’t serial parking violators and don’t have any outstanding citations. Interested students who meet that criteria must first complete a two-hour training program, observe at least two arbitration cases, and co-arbitrate at least two additional cases with an established arbitrator. After that, they can work solo.

Since the program’s inception, dozens of students have arbitrated thousands of cases, with each one having a three-pronged benefit: Those who believe they’ve been erroneously ticketed get to be heard; Parking Services representatives can learn about and address certain trouble spots (for instance, fixing incomplete or ambiguous signage); and law students gain valuable hands-on dispute-resolution experience, not only learning how to deal with upset disputants but gaining a sense for what it’s like to sit in a judge’s hot seat.

“Student arbitrators realize that, no matter how you see an issue, there usually are two sides to a story, and that judges don’t make decisions as easily as one might think,” says Jae Barrick, a UNLV Law alumnus and Saltman Center Graduate Fellow who has overseen the Parking Arbitration program and supervised student arbitrators since 2014. “So it helps them understand the role and position that a judge is put in when they bring a case before a judge.”

The Parking Arbitration program is open to any student, faculty, staff, or visitor who believes they’ve been cited in error. To submit an appeal, complainants can’t have any outstanding citations and must pay their current fine within 30 days of receipt. From there, an arbitration hearing is scheduled—Barrick says hearings take place about once a month, with roughly 20 cases adjudicated at each. 

After hearing arguments and reviewing evidence from both sides, arbitrators have three options: uphold the citation, issue a partial refund, or void the citation entirely and offer a complete refund. All rulings are binding, and aggrieved parties are notified of the arbitrator’s decision via mail (unless Parking Services, upon listening to evidence, agrees on the spot to waive the ticket or offer a partial refund, which occasionally happens).

Emily Strand, a third-year Boyd student, estimates she’s overseen about 80 cases since becoming an arbitrator as a 1L. She points to one case in particular that underscores the value and impact of the parking arbitration program.  

“There have been several times where students and staff were repeatedly getting ticketed in the same spots over and over,” Strand says. “They were frustrated, and Parking Services was frustrated. Finally, after the third time I’d arbitrated a case involving the same few parking spots, I turned to Parking Services and asked, “If you don’t want people to park here, why isn’t it marked?’

“Being a student, I understood that unless an area is specifically marked ‘no parking,’ it’s basically free game. Parking services agreed to refund the students, then promised to look into marking the spot. A week later, I drove by and they were painting the curb red.”

Fellow third-year Boyd student and student arbitrator Phillip Froehlich tells a similar tale of hearing disputes from as many as 20 different individuals who received citations for the same violation on the same day at a new parking garage. Those who were ticketed argued the garage lacked specific no-parking signage; Froehlich agreed, and refunds were issued.

“Immediately following our decision, the parking garage had clear and effective signage explaining to students where they can park,” Froehlich says. “Our decision made a change that cleared up an issue that easily could have continued.”

Although all student arbitrators are unpaid volunteers, both Strand and Froehlich insist the experience has been worth their time and will serve them well in their legal careers.
 
“With the exception of adoption lawyers, most lawyers see clients at their lowest point, when they’re emotional and not always thinking clearly,” Strand says. “While the stakes are lower when it comes to parking, people still get very emotional and invested in their ‘case.’ Learning to manage those emotions and sort out facts is an important skill. Arbitration has also given me more confidence in commanding a room, working with other law students, and in my own legal decision-making skills.”

Says Froehlich: “This program is an amazing opportunity for any student. The experiences you get and skills you gain as an arbitrator breaking down each problem, categorizing the importance, and working it out to the general satisfaction of those involved carry well into any field.”