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Fate of Chicago's red light camera program yields to Illinois Supreme Court for ruling

By Bethany Krajelis | May 21, 2014

OTTAWA-- Despite being opponents, attorneys involved in the legal fight over Chicago’s red light camera program offered a similar line in their arguments today before the Illinois Supreme Court.

Explaining to the justices why she believed one of the many arguments raised by the plaintiffs’ attorney failed, Kerrie Maloney Laytin, assistant corporation counsel for the city, said it was waived by not being raised earlier, forfeited by being left out of the high court appeal and was “just wrong.”

Laytin said this in regards to the plaintiffs’ claim the city’s 2003 ordinance, which created its red light camera program, was void because the city failed to re-enact the measure after the legislature passed an enabling act in 2006 to give eight counties the green light to enact such programs.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Michael Reagan, didn’t waste any time responding to his opponent’s contention he was wrong.

He told the justices an argument that simply calls out an opposing position as wrong is not often made in court and then assured them the city is “just plain wrong.”

This case -- Elizabeth Keating, et al. v. The City of Chicago – was heard today in the Third District Appellate Courthouse in Ottawa, which briefly housed the Illinois Supreme Court in the late 1800s, as part of the court’s ongoing effort to educate the public on its work.

Students from three area high schools attended, along with members of the local appellate and circuit courts. In addition to Keating, the justices heard arguments in the criminal matter of People v. Mickey D. Smith, after hearing 11 other cases in Chicago during their May term.

At issue in Keating is whether the Cook County Circuit Court and the First District Appellate Court erred in dismissing a suit that seven motorists brought over the city’s ordinance establishing a red light camera program, which penalizes the owners of vehicles caught running traffic signals.

In urging the justices to reverse the lower courts, Reagan said the city lacked home rule authority to enact its 2003 ordinance and that the 2006 enabling act authorizing red light camera programs in Cook County, as well as DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry, St. Clair and Will counties, is unconstitutional because it is “special local legislation.”

Reagan said there was no rational basis for the Illinois General Assembl to enact a law singling out eight counties without a legitimate reason. While the city claims the law was aimed at curbing traffic violations in high traffic areas, he said there is likely more traffic in Bloomington, Champaign and Rockford than some of the areas included in the law.

And even if the enabling statue is constitutional, which he claims is not, Reagan told the justices the city failed to re-enact its 2003 ordinance after the 2006 state law was passed, rendering it void since it wasn’t retroactive.

On behalf of the city, Laytin told the justices the enabling act survives a special legislation challenge because lawmakers had a rational basis in choosing the eight counties.

Laytin said the rationale behind the 2006 law is “crystal clear.” She said it aimed to reduce traffic violations and targeted high traffic and population areas in Cook County and its collar counties, as well as St. Clair County given its proximity to St. Louis.

In addition to saying the city had home rule authority to pass the 2003 law, Laytin argued the plaintiffs’ had waived and forfeited their re-enactment argument by failing to raise it earlier or include it in its petition for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.

During his rebuttal, Reagan questioned why the 2006 law was even passed if the city had authority to enact its 2003 ordinance, asking “what purpose does it serve?”

Prior to today's arguments, Chief Justice Rita Garman welcomed the local high school students and other attendants to high court's one-time home. She presented a quick lesson on how matters reach high court review and said she hoped everyone found the proceedings interesting and educational.

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