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Lawsuit Alleges City Uses Distracted Driving Tickets As "Piggy Bank"

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Motorists who have been ticketed for distracted driving in Chicago have sued the city, alleging it illegally stacks the deck against them in order to pocket millions of dollars in fines.

Adina Klein, Stephen Michelini, and Rabbi Aaron Potek filed the lawsuit Tuesday morning in Cook County, seeking class action status on behalf of all drivers who have received fines for distracted driving since 2010.

The state's distracted driving law prohibits drivers from talking, texting, or otherwise using a mobile device unless it is in hands-free or voice-operated mode.

However, the lawsuit alleges the city violated drivers' due process when issuing tickets for distracted driving, by sending the cases to the city's Department of Administrative Hearings, rather than a state traffic court.

"It's obviously a well-intentioned law. It's conduct that probably should be outlawed, but the bottom line is is that the city can't look at it as just another piggy bank," said Jacie Zolna, one of the plantiffs' attorneys.

Zolna said sending the cases to administrative hearings effectively stacks the deck in the city's favor, and puts drivers at a major disadvantage.

"Officers don't even need to show up. There's no opportunity to cross-examine witnesses. All of the rules of evidence don't apply," he said.

The plaintiffs allege the city does it that way for one reason: to keep all the money from distracted driving fines.

"When it goes to state court, the city has to split the fine with the state and the county. When it goes to their administrative court, the city keeps all the money," Zolna said.

Zolna estimated the city has ticketed and fined more than 200,000 motorists for distracted driving over a five-year period, collecting more than $20 million in fines as a result.

The city Law Department declined comment on the lawsuit.

Zolna's law firm, Myron M. Cherry and Associates, is the law firm that recently won a $38.5 million settlement with the city of Chicago over the way the city handled millions of red light camera violations.

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