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Judge Hears Arguments On New Red Light Camera Lawsuit

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A Cook County judge was hearing arguments Tuesday in the latest lawsuit challenging the city's lucrative red light camera program.

The suit, filed by Chicago attorney Patrick Keating, alleges the city didn't have proper authority from the Illinois General Assembly when it started the red light camera program more than a decade ago.

It also claims 77,000 tickets have been issued at intersections where yellow lights are less than three seconds, which the federal government's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices says should be the minimum duration of any yellow light.

The city has argued those federal standards are not legally binding, but just a recommendation from the Federal Highway Administration.

A similar lawsuit was dismissed by the Illinois Supreme Court last year, after two justices recused themselves from the case, and the rest of the court was unable to come up with the minimum four votes needed to render an opinion.

"Quite honestly, I think it was a political move, and I think that the Supreme Court pulled a move, and – as we say – snookered us," said Mark Wallace, director of Citizens To Abolish Red Light Cameras.


What's new in the latest suit is the allegations that yellow lights are too short, and a different set of plaintiffs.

Judge Rita Novak earlier refused to dismiss the suit, saying while the issues were largely the same as the one dismissed by the Supreme Court, there were new plaintiffs, and due process concerns should she dismiss.

"Anytime that you're suing the city, you're hanging on a thread. This program that has brought in well over a half a billion dollars to the city, and the city is certainly vastly defending the program, even in the wake of three federal indictments of corruption and bribery," Wallace said.

"I think that there's more than enough evidence that says that the city should do the right thing, and stop running this scam on the citizens," Wallace said.

The city's red light camera program has been beset by scandal in recent years, including the conviction of the former CEO of the city's red light camera program vendor, who admitted to a scheme to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to a top city official to secure $124 million in red light contracts. Former city official John Bills has pleaded innocent, and is set to go on trial in January. Bills' pal, Martin O'Malley, has pleaded guilty to funneling the bribe money to Bills.

A Chicago Tribune investigation last year revealed, after the city replaced the original red light camera vendor, it quietly shortened its yellow light standard to 2.9 seconds in February 2014. That switch led to about $7.7 million in red light camera tickets issued to drivers at intersections with yellow lights that were 2.9 seconds. The city has since returned to its original 3-second standard.

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