CHICAGO (STMW) -- Cash-strapped Chicago should be forced to refund $600 million in red-light and speed camera tickets dating back to 2003 because it "skipped a step" and denied motorists due process, a lawsuit filed Monday argues.
Five months ago, attorney Jacie Zolna accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration of ignoring the ground rules established by the state before speed cameras were installed around schools and parks — by issuing thousands of tickets on "non-school days."
Circuit Court Judge Mary Mikva subsequently dismissed the lawsuit; she based that ruling on the grounds that any time even one student is on campus attending an event, it counts as a school day.
But on Monday, Zolna filed another class-action lawsuit that's far more sweeping and potentially costly for the city.
It accuses the Emanuel administration of violating the city's own legal requirement to issue a second notice of violation prior to issuing a determination of liability against motorists who were issued speed camera and red-light camera tickets.
The suit further accuses City Hall of two more "mistakes" that Zolna says deprived motorists of their due process:
- The failure to specify the make of the vehicle, as required under state law and the municipal code.
- The assessment of late penalties whenever payment is not received within 21 days of a liability determination, when a 25-day grace period is required by law.
Zolna — for now — represents three named plaintiffs in the case: Delyn McKenzie-Lopez, Themasha Simpson and Erica Lieschke.
But he's seeking class-action status, which could compel the city to refund $600 million in fines and millions more in penalties dating back to 2003, when the first of 302 red-light cameras at 149 intersections were installed.
Zolna is also seeking an injunction that would prevent the city from collecting on or otherwise enforcing outstanding speed and red-light camera violations until the noticing mistakes are remedied.
Zolna said McKenzie-Lopez is a poster-child for the city's photo enforcement mistakes.
She got her first $100 red-light camera ticket on April 29, 2014, after blowing a red-light at 150 N. Sacramento, then got hit with speed camera tickets on May 14, May 22, and May 29, after being nailed by a camera at 4040 W. Chicago Ave.
"She was supposed to get a pre-liability notice and a subsequent notice," Zolna said. "Instead of affording her those rights, the city hit her with a liability determination three or four weeks later, then started assessing late penalties that doubled the fine."
"So instead of getting a $100 ticket, which is difficult enough for a lot of people to afford, you might get two or three of these before you even realize a speed camera was operating because the city is so quick to find you liable. You could very easily be confronted in a matter of weeks with $600 or $800 in penalties. People can't afford to pay that. That's rent and groceries."
But law department spokesman John Holden said, "Automated traffic enforcement is an important public safety tool, and while we haven't seen the lawsuit, the program already has been upheld by the courts in a prior challenge filed by this same law firm and we are confident it is on solid legal ground."
The demand for refunds dating all the way back to 2003 comes at a time when the city's financial crunch is front and center in the race for mayor.
Chicago is facing a $300 million operating shortfall, a $20 billion pension crisis, $10 billion in unfunded pension liabilities at the Chicago Public Schools and a state-mandated, $550 million payment due in December to shore up police and fire pensions.
"It could mean a refund of every fine and penalty ever paid by anyone for a red-light or a speed camera violation dating all the way back to 2003," Zolna said Monday. "In every single case of red-light or speed camera violations, they have failed to provide the subsequent notice as required under the municipal code. They send the initial violation notice and, instead of sending the second notice as they are required to do, they simply issue a determination of liability and begin enforcing fines and assessing penalties. They're skipping a step."
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2015. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
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