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
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
“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.