Posted Jul 12, 2013 05:07 pm CDT
An elderly Chicago area man whose $75 ticket for picking dandelions for food drew international attention was left angry and embarrassed this week after he was forced to pay the fine.
John Taris, who lives with his wife on a fixed income, said the fine for foraging in a Cook County Forest Preserve will eat up half of his bank account. But Taris reluctantly paid the fine and let the matter rest after experiencing a less-than-satisfying administrative hearing to contest the ticket.
Represented pro bono by a Chicago-area lawyer and bolstered by support from those who’d heard about his case, Taris thought he had a good chance of getting his ticket tossed. Yet despite his lawyer’s presence and argument that he didn’t have funds to pay, Taris was told he’d need to pay the fine, plus $200 in court costs.
Taris was dumbfounded. Still stewing after his attorney left the hearing, Taris approached the hearing officer and pleaded for mercy, explaining again that he couldn’t afford the ticket, let alone court costs. The hearing officer then re-opened the matter, called back Taris’ lawyer and issued a new order waiving court costs, yet leaving the fine intact.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” says Pete Garbis, who took on the Taris case pro bono and generally handles more serious criminal defense matters in Cook County.
Garbis was even more incredulous when one of the hearing officers pointed out that Taris could have been charged with a misdemeanor.
“You have a person who cites somebody for taking weeds, that person is given a court date,” Garbis said. “It just seems like a frivolous thing.”
Garbis, who described as “bizarre” his having to drive to the “middle of the woods” to the Cook County Forest Preserve administrative offices at 1 Aloha Lane in Hinsdale, said there was no negotiating for this strict liability ticket. Ignorance of the ordinance, which prohibits picking any herbs, isn’t a defense, he said. “There’s no way a criminal court judge would enforce a law that frivolous,” Garbis said.
Taris’s case drew widespread local, national and even international attention after his story was reported by Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass.
Taris said he received a call from the Tribune letting him know that donations were coming in to help him pay the ticket, but he hasn’t seen any money yet.
Chicago Tribune: “Crime fighters try a new way to uproot thugs and punks — weed out the flower pickers. Retiree plucks dandelions for meals — instead, preserve cop serves him a $75 ticket”
Greek Reporter: “Horta Picker Taris Faces Court”