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Excessive fines – are they unfair
June 15, 2024
Excessive fines – are they unfair
I have a customer that is a church that contracted my company, using a K&K contract, to repair the fire alarm after a lightning strike that occurred back in October and take over the monitoring. I submitted and obtained a permit for the work to be done from the city. In repairing the systems, they had three systems in this church, we found more equipment was needed. We installed the equipment and got the systems going.
           The fire inspector saw at the final acceptance test that we did more work than was originally on the permit. The additional work was changing out 9 horn strobes that were 40 years old and install a power supply and a smoke detector above the existing panel that was never installed. We did not redesign nor relocate any equipment. The total work was less than $5000. The fire inspector fined my company $5000 for doing "unpermitted work". I have on the permit application describing what we were doing because we were dealing with 40-year-old equipment; this was a bit nonstandard.  I don't think this new city employee fully understood what we were doing. This employee even called me, and we discussed the job and they approved my permit application. I was not trying to hide anything, obtained a permit and just did more than was on the permit to get the job done. I know this city Greensboro NC has handed out fines to other alarm dealers for not getting a permit and that amount was $5000 as that seems to be their go to amount. 
            Several questions for you. What constitutes excessive fines?  Is there anything in NC, or other state's laws that limit the amount of fines levied? What is to stop the government from just fining any amount, say $100,000 or more for not following the rules as this jurisdiction sees fit. Mind you alarm dealers have many different jurisdictions and we are expected to know the different rules and procedures for every individual jurisdiction.  What are your thoughts?
    Frustrated more than usual with government,
            I was 35 year old lawyer and Bankruptcy Trustee.  I was in a battle with a Bankruptcy Judge who was out to get me disbarred and used and abused his office to try and accomplish his goal.  The battle lasted well over a year, maybe three, I forget, but at one point I went to see the Chief Federal Judge to complain about the abuse.  I remember standing in his chambers doorway explaining the abuse and how unfair it was.  He looked at me and simply asked: “How old are you?” to which I replied “35”.  He then said, “Hasn’t anyone told you yet that life isn’t always fair”.  I left office his office as despondent as when I got there.  A year later I had to appear before him on yet another complaint by the Bankruptcy Judge – this one to discipline and hopefully disbar me.  I was pretty nervous when I went into the huge federal courtroom and saw the judge with is 5 or so law clerks at a table loaded with files. 
            My case was called and I walked up to the table.  The judge took my file, laid it out in front of him, and in about 20 seconds wrote right on the Order to Show Cause, “Dismissed”.  That ended that complaint.  The abuse continue for a while until the Judge eventually lost his judgeship, hopefully in part because of all the information I provided to the other bankruptcy judges [who asked for the info].  And yes, after almost 50 years I am still a United States Bankruptcy Trustee. 
            Life isn’t always fair, but often what goes around comes around.
            I do not believe the Fire Inspector can levy a fine that is not appealable.  You need to plead not guilty and follow the process, though you may find that you need a lawyer because you’re a corporation.  My office has appeared in many of these matters, here in NY.  The fines are usually dismissed or reduced to $500.
            But, you may not have sympathy from everyone.  Fire alarms require permits and permits require plans and specifications.  You cannot vary from these plans, even if you’re making things better in your opinion.  Recognizing this simple best practice will save you a lot of trouble.
            By the way, the Fire All in One is the preferred contract for doing any work on a fire alarm, from design, install, repairs, inspection and service.  That means ANY work.  And the Fire All in One clearly requires the subscriber to pay for any changes demanded by the AHJ. 

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Ken Kirschenbaum,Esq
Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum PC
Attorneys at Law
200 Garden City Plaza
Garden City, NY 11530
516 747 6700 x 301