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U.S. Supreme Court Hears Case On Whether Drivers Can Get Cars Back From Chicago Auto Pound After Filing For Bankruptcy

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The case City of Chicago v. Fulton is before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The justices are deciding whether drivers can get their cars back from the city auto pound after they file for bankruptcy.

As CBS 2's Jim Williams reported Tuesday evening, the drivers say it's a hardship to be without their cars.

Rack up lots of unpaid parking tickets, or drive on a suspended license, and your car could end up at the city's auto pound. Drivers said when that happens, it creates of a ripple effect of misery.

On top of the inconvenience of having a vehicle towed, it is very expensive. It costs $150 to $250 for the tow itself, and the longer the vehicle is at the auto pound, the higher the tab.

Drivers end up in what attorney Jacie Zolna calls a debt spiral.

"What happens is you get one or two tickets, they double and now you're looking at several hundred dollars in fines," Zolna said, "and people have to make decision - 'Do I pay parking tickets, or do I pay this month or buy my groceries this month?'"

Zolna insists some drivers have no choice but to file for bankruptcy to get their vehicles back.

"What happens when someone who is trying to make ends meet loses their car?" she said. "They have a hard time getting to their job or school or doctors appointments."

In a case before the United States Supreme Court, attorney Craig Goldblatt - arguing for the City of Chicago – said those drivers are not protected by bankruptcy law.

"It does not require creditors to turn over property lawfully in their possession," he said.

Attorney Eugene Wedoff, representing drivers whose cars were towed, argues if the justices rule in favor of the city, it will weaken bankruptcy protection and hurt people who need their vehicles to survive.

"It would make Chapter 13 much less effective potentially, because it would put debtors in the position of not being able to recover property that's essential to their livelihood," Wedoff said.

The CBS 2 investigators have exposed problems with the city's towing program. Even when a toddler was critically wounded when a gunman fired into his grandmother's van, that van was towed after she rushed him to the hospital.

The grandmother, Kakesia Walker, said she ended up with $1,535 in fees. Police had failed to give her a victim's fee waiver quickly.

"So these practices are harming our most vulnerable citizens," Zolna said.

The City of Chicago is supported by the National Association of Counties, arguing drivers could abuse bankruptcy law to avoid paying fees and fines - which they say are designed to maintain public safety. Lawyers for drivers say the city just wants to raise revenue.

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