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Man’s Two-Year Battle With DMV Ends--in a $247 Award

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Larry R. Parker wore a million-dollar smile Wednesday even though the judgment he won against the state Department of Motor Vehicles was a mere $247.01.

For Parker, the decision signaled victory in a two-year battle with the leviathan state agency, which admitted botching his truck’s registration, causing it to be impounded, and then refusing to refund his costs, arguing that he had submitted the wrong form to get a refund--a form the DMV had given him.

On Wednesday, the agency announced that it would stop devoting thousands of dollars in state resources to avoid paying the picayune sum.

“We realize we are responsible for part of the problems he had,” said Bill Madison, a DMV spokesman in Sacramento. “We can [now] go our way and not spend state money behind thislitigation.”

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“I’m happy that they’ve finally seen their error,” said Parker of Huntington Beach moments after his attorney announced in Orange County Superior Court that the DMV had decided to settle the case. “It’s ridiculous that the state took a small matter like this to these lengths.”

The brief court hearing Wednesday before Orange County Superior Court Referee Greer H. Stroud was the latest--and probably the last--in a protracted battle between Parker and the DMV.

It began in January, 1994, when Parker paid $1,758 in registration fees for his GMC truck and a second vehicle. A clerk at the DMV office in Westminster told him at the time that he would need a smog check for his 1961 pickup before he could receive his new tag.

The smog check requirement surprised Parker, because he had never needed one before on a vehicle that old. Vehicles originally registered before 1966 do not require smog certificates.

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Although DMV officials eventually acknowledged that Parker didn’t need the smog check, Huntington Beach police had already towed the truck because of “incomplete registration.”

A DMV supervisor later apologized for the mistake and gave Parker a claim form to recover the $137 it took to get his impounded truck back from the police and another $74.01 for transportation expenses and time lost at work.

When the DMV rejected his refund request, Parker marched off to small claims court and won a $211.01 judgment against the DMV, plus the $22 it had cost him to file his claim in court.

To the surprise of Parker and legal experts, the DMV enlisted the California Attorney General’s office to appeal Parker’s small claims victory.

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After reading two legal briefs by a deputy attorney general, Referee Stroud reversed Parker’s small claims judgment.

It was then Parker’s turn to appeal, which he promptly announced he would do.

On Wednesday, Parker appeared better prepared for a court battle. Where he had previously done battle without a lawyer at his side, he came to court Wednesday with attorney Michael B. Stone of Seal Beach, who volunteered his services free of charge after reading a newspaper story about Parker’s plight.

Since accepting the case, Stone went on the attack, filing a motion for a new hearing and another asking the referee to sanction Deputy Atty. Gen. Christopher J. Ruiz, who represented the DMV in court.

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Stone argued that Ruiz misled the court when he told the court that the DMV was justified in rejecting Parker’s claim because he had used the wrong form. The state agency was bound by case law, Stone argued, to honor Parker’s request for a refund regardless of the form he used.

Stone told the court Wednesday that Ruiz had finally agreed to settle the case for $233.01, plus $14 for the costs of filing the latest motions.

“It’s a good resolution to this matter,” said a smiling Stroud.

The team of Michael B. Stone and Larry R. Parker strode out of court with smiles of accomplishment on their faces. The two just happen to have the same names--but different middle initials--as two of Southern California most prominent litigators.

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Another Michael Stone was the defense lawyer in the trial of four Los Angeles police officers charged with beating motorist Rodney King. Larry H. Parker is a personal-injury lawyer whose clients boast in television ads that he has secured million-dollar settlements for them.

“Hey, I got Larry Parker $2.1 hundred,” quipped Stone, the Seal Beach attorney.


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