Portland’s elevated attention to codes such as unleashed dogs comes with a touch of flexibility.

One by one, Trish McAllister ushered people out of the small crowd in Courtroom 3 on Monday for lightning rounds of “Let’s Make a Deal” with the prosecutor.

Some played ball and got their fines reduced. Others did not.

Ernesto Fernando of Portland challenged his citation for having his dog off-leash in July. He lost his case before a judge and was fined $75.

Sue Sage of Westbrook opted for negotiation. Ticketed for parking in a handicapped-parking zone without a placard, Sage said she had taken her disabled neighbor to a hair appointment and forgotten the placard. She showed McAllister a letter from the neighbor and a copy of the placard. McAllister agreed to reduce the fine from $200 to $50.

As Portland’s neighborhood prosecutor, McAllister’s job is to hold people accountable for violating city codes, such as those banning unleashed dogs, public urination, aggressive panhandling, parking violations and disorderly houses. Her job has gotten much busier as the city has stepped up anti-nuisance enforcement.

McAllister handled 15 citations in 2010, when she was hired. So far in 2013, she has handled nearly 120, including 50 for unleashed dogs in places such as Payson Park and the Eastern Promenade.

Until her position was created, such civil offenses were largely overlooked by a busy police force and a crowded criminal court system.

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY, EDUCATION

Sage walked away happy after her encounter with McAllister. “I think she’s awesome,” she said. “I think she’s incredibly reasonable.”

But even those who have citations dismissed can leave with a bitter taste about the city’s stepped-up enforcement.

Steven and Lynda Hubbell of Cape Elizabeth were cited for having a partially obscured placard in a handicapped-parking spot. In court Monday, they showed McAllister a photo of the placard, which clearly displayed all of the necessary information.

Lydia Hubbell is bound to a wheelchair. Their case was dismissed.

But Steven Hubbell estimated that he spent four hours fighting the ticket. “Time is a precious commodity,” he said.

Not everyone who is cited comes to court and faces McAllister, but many who do are rewarded.

“I tell people (that) showing up counts,” she said of her willingness to reduce fines. “It’s all about people taking responsibility and educating them.”

Some who showed up Monday got their fines for public urination and aggressive panhandling reduced. When one panhandling fine was reduced from $100 to $10, the judge even gave the man 30 to 90 days to pay.

VIOLATORS GET OWN DAY IN COURT

McAllister, an attorney, is the only neighborhood prosecutor in Maine. In three years, she has proposed and won passage of ordinances that officials say are aimed at protecting Portland residents’ quality of life.

A disorderly-house ordinance holds landlords accountable for problem tenants. Property owners are now responsible for removing graffiti from their properties. Other ordinances prohibit smoking in parks, panhandling in street medians and political speech within 39 feet of abortion clinics.

Enforcement has increased with enhanced training of park rangers and police cadets, who issue citations and sometimes call police for help when people refuse to give their names.

In March, McAllister and other city officials convinced the court system to set aside one day a month in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court for ordinance violations, which had been taken up along with crimes as serious as murder and drug dealing.

On that day, people who haven’t paid their fines can negotiate or go to trial before a judge.

SOME CASES HAVE BRIEF TRIAL

Fernando, who got fined for the unleashed dog in July, fought his citation in a short trial Monday morning, during which he said he was racially profiled.

He admitted to not having a leash on his dog, a 4-year-old Brittany named Boomer, but argued that he was nearby at the time and that Boomer wasn’t a nuisance to anyone. And he argued that other people in Payson Park that day had dogs off-leash, but he was singled out because he is black.

He said he tried to leave the park when confronted by Russell Groh, a park ranger. Groh followed him nearly seven blocks to his house and called police, who arrested Fernando on an outstanding warrant.

Fernando told Judge Richard Mulhern that he was harassed by Groh, and that the arrest warrant had been issued erroneously for a speeding ticket that he had paid.

“I feel like I was definitely singled out,” Fernando said. “If you want to call it racial profiling, then yes, that’s what happened here.”

The city challenged that argument. Groh testified that 11 of the 13 citations he has issued this year for unleashed dogs have gone to white people.

The judge said his job was to determine whether it was more likely than not that the dog was off-leash. Since Fernando admitted that it was, Mulhern ruled in the city’s favor.

When McAllister asked to double the $75 fine to recoup the city’s costs for the trial, Mulhern refused.

“I don’t think we should punish someone’s right to have a trial,” the judge said.

MANY DEFENDANTS SKIP COURT

McAllister said it’s important to hold people accountable for violating city ordinances. She recalled that an unleashed dog attacked a child this summer. In that case, the city waived the fines after the dog owners paid full restitution to the victims and voluntarily put down their pet, she said.

Those who fail to show up in court typically receive the full fines and letters warning them that warrants could be issued for their arrest, or that they could lose their driver’s licenses, if they fail to pay the fines.

On Monday, 17 of 30 defendants – people who hadn’t responded to citations – didn’t show up. Eleven of those people were dog owners, including a man who was ticketed for having a dangerous dog.

In that case, a dog escaped from its owner and attacked a leashed dog at Capisic Pond. Because the owner failed to show up in court, he will be fined $500. The judge will decide next month how much in damages to award the victims – and whether the dog, a pit bull, should be euthanized.

“I was really disappointed they didn’t show up,” McAllister said.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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Twitter: @randybillings