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Ligonier musician loses battle over bad parking choice

| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, 7:40 a.m.
Tribune-Review
Jim Cline, who plays guitar for services at Ligonier Presbyterian Church, walks to the Ligonier office of District Judge Denise Snyder Thiel on Nov. 27, 2012. Cline received a parking ticket for backing his vehicle into a municipal lot so it would get some shade and protect his guitar. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review

A church musician told a district judge he was trying to protect his $3,500 guitar, one of 100 custom-designed by country star Clint Black, when he illegally backed his pickup truck into a Ligonier parking spot in July.

At a summary trial Tuesday, James Cline, 76, of Donegal confessed to District Judge Denise Snyder Thiel that he broke a municipal commandment in Ligonier, where head-in parking is required at all borough lots.

But Cline argued that he shouldn't have to pay the ticket because he wrote to the borough explaining the situation and received no response.

Cline carried his acoustic guitar into the courtroom, pulling it from a black, velour-lined case designed to maintain the proper humidity for the rosewood and spruce instrument.

He brought a note from his pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church, which the judge didn't allow into evidence.

The Rev. Robert D. Cummings wrote that Cline, a retired Air Force officer, is a “very generous and exuberant worker” who “goes about tasks with great detail, energy and thought.”

He often arrives at the church before 6 a.m. to prepare for an 8:15 worship service, then helps others during the day.

“On the day in question, he was occupied in such an endeavor and did not have the prior opportunity to remove his instrument, a rather expensive guitar which is somewhat sensitive to large humidity and temperature swings,” Cummings wrote.

Cline said after he led the church's worship team in music on Sunday, July 22, he left his Chevrolet Avalanche in Municipal Lot A while he and his wife ran an errand to Elk County.

He said he backed his truck into the space, though he saw a sign warning it was illegal, because he wanted to keep his guitar cool in the 88-degree temperature.

When he returned that evening, a $10 ticket was on his windshield.

He wrote to the borough but received no response, he told Thiel, other than a standard letter advising him that the ticket had not been paid and a $5 late penalty was added.

“Paying the $15 isn't the issue,” Cline said. “The issue is that I didn't receive any form of communication from the police department saying either, ‘We don't buy your case,' or ‘Come in and let's talk about it.'”

Thiel, however, found Cline guilty.

“You made the acknowledgement that you were aware of the requirement to park head-in,” Thiel said. “But there hasn't been sufficient evidence that (backing in) was the only way to achieve what you wanted to achieve.”

Thiel suggested that Cline could have parked facing the meter and stored the guitar upright on the front seat.

Cline paid $74 for the ticket and court costs.

Afterward, Cline said he felt the trial was a waste of time.

“When I think about how many volunteer hours I've donated to this town, and how much money we've spent here over the years, and how I feel about the town of Ligonier and their attitude ... this is incredible,” he said.

“The situation is somewhere between the sublime and ridiculous. This is something that one thinks and prays on, but what I feel right now is that I may never step foot in Ligonier again.”

“... We were hoping for leniency,” said Cummings, his pastor. “But the law is the law, and you have to go with it.”

Jewels Phraner is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-1218 or jphraner@tribweb.com.

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