Saying the new ordinance marks nothing more than an illegal attempt by Chicago City Hall to collect fines and fees on old traffic tickets already voided by a judge, a group of plaintiffs who earlier secured the key court victoies in their quest to collect refunds for potentially more than 1 million tickets issued under the city’s red light and speed camera programs have returned to Cook County court, asking a judge to declare the new ordinance unconstitutional.
On Nov. 1, plaintiffs Erica Lieschke and Delyn McKenzie-Lopez, through their attorneys with the firm of Myron Cherry & Associates, of Chicago, filed a new class action lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against the city of Chicago, asserting a new city ordinance governing the enforcement of the city’s automated red light and speed camera traffic enforcement program conflict with both state law and the constitutional rights of those receiving tickets under the program.
Further, they asserted the new ordinance represents an attempt by the city to conduct “an end-run” around prior court rulings in a related class action over the red light and speed camera ticket program.
The class action focuses on a decision by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago City Council to “quietly” introduce and enact an ordinance in September, ostensibly to address shortcomings in the prior ordinance and offer those who had previously received tickets under the red light and speed camera enforcement programs a “second bite at the apple” to challenge the tickets at a proper hearing.
In 2015, attorney Cherry and his clients had filed a class action against the city, alleging the city’s practices in enforcing the red light and speed camera tickets violated the Illinois Constitution, state vehicular laws and the city’s own ordinance establishing the camera traffic enforcement programs. The lawsuit also alleged the city’s tickets issued under the automated enforcement program should be voided and the city made to pay damages for collecting fees and fines to which it should not have been entitled.
Specifically, the lawsuit argued the city did not properly list the make of the vehicle photographed during the alleged red light and speeding violations; the city overstepped its home rule powers, which should have been limited by the Illinois Vehicle Code; and the city failed to send a second notice of violation, as required by its ordinances, to give those receiving the tickets sufficient chance to contest them in court, before the city began assessing additional fees and fines for the unpaid tickets.
While the city had asked for that lawsuit to be dismissed, in February, Cook County Judge Kathleen Kennedy G. Kennedy had ruled for the plaintiffs, agreeing the lack of a second notice violated the city’s own ordinance and rendered the tickets void and unenforceable.
On Nov. 2, Kennedy also certified four classes of additional plaintiffs in that lawsuit, authorizing Cherry and his firm to represent those who may have received hundreds of thousands of tickets issued before May 2015.
However, in the wake of the February decision, Cherry and his clients asserted the city moved to change the ordinance, rewriting it to try to recapture the revenue it could potentially lose, should the court ultimately void the old tickets and order the city to refund the fines and fees it has already collected under the program.
In the plaintiffs’ complaint, the action was compared to that of the fairy tale character Rumpelstiltskin spinning straw into gold – in this case, potentially turning purportedly invalid traffic tickets into potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue for the city.
“Rather than affording class members ‘a second bite at the apple’ to contest their alleged (red light and speed camera) violations, the true purpose of the Automated Enforcement Ordinance was to give the City a second bite at an illegal money grab by purporting to allow it to re-adjudicate liability for (red light and speed camera) violations that, in effect, they had already lost,” the complaint said.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleged the city ordinance violated, among other things, state laws prohibiting initiating “multiple proceedings against an individual for the same offense,” prohibiting an attempt to retroactively apply the ordinance to an offense that occurred before the new ordinance was passed and forbidding the collection of late fees at the same time the fine is first assessed.
Further, the lawsuit alleged the ordinance violated constitutional guarantees to due process and equal protection for those who had already paid the fines and fees demanded by the city before May 2015.
“The City wants to turn the Constitution on its head,” the complaint said. “The result of this Ordinance would be to take money now (i.e., from 2010 to 2015) and determine liability much, much later (by authorizing hearings that take place in 2017 to adjudicate the propriety of taking that money years earlier).”
In their complaint, plaintiffs estimated those impacted by the city’s new ordinance could number more than 1 million, or at least in the “hundreds of thousands.”
The complaint asked the judge to declare the ordinance unconstitutional and void, issue an injunction barring the city from enforcing it and order the city to refund any fines and fees it has collected under the automated enforcement programs, plus attorney fees.