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My brother, my traffic court nightmare

/ Source: The Associated Press

A traffic judge apologized to a man who had been hounded for 17 years by officials trying to get his similarly named twin brother to resolve $1,800 in unpaid tickets and fines.

The problems started for 40-year-old Edward Stanley Harris between October 1990 and May 1991. Over that period, his twin brother, Edwin Shelby Harris, received eight tickets for moving violations.

Edwin Harris pleaded guilty in Philadelphia Traffic Court in September 1991 and was ordered to pay $1,501. But Edwin never paid. He hit hard times, drifted south and lost touch with his brother.

In the fall of 1992, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation gave Edward Harris a painful reminder of his twin: The agency, confusing him with his brother, told him his license would be suspended for nonpayment of tickets.

Eventually, PennDOT got things cleared up and withdrew the suspension threat. But Edward's fight against bureaucracy was only just beginning.

Every year or so, between November 1992 and June of last year, PennDOT would rediscover Edwin's unpaid tickets and threaten to suspend Edward's license. Each time, Edward would trudge back down to Traffic Court, and the suspension threat would get lifted.

That cycle dragged on until November, when Judge Willie Adams refused to look at the paperwork that showed Harris was innocent, then told him to start paying the tickets or go to jail. That prompted him to take his story to the Philadelphia Daily News.

After the column ran Monday, a different traffic judge, Bernice DeAngelis, caught wind of the story. She apologized and said the court would give Edward Harris a refund.

"I'd like the chance to look him in the eye and apologize, from the bottom of my heart," DeAngelis told the newspaper for a story Thursday. "I see what we do in this court as a sacred trust. That might sound corny, but I truly believe it. I'm sorry for everything he had to go through."