Under a proposed $38.75 million settlement to end one of the class action lawsuits it faces over abuses within its red light camera program, the city of Chicago could pay those who were ticketed under the program half of the money they paid to the city for the alleged wrongful $100 fines.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs who brought the case, however, could drive off with more than $11 million in fees for their work, should a Cook County judge sign off on the deal.
On Wednesday, the Chicago City Council is expected to consider approval of the settlement announced between City Hall and lawyers representing a class of potentially hundreds of thousands, or even more than 1 million, people who have received tickets under the automated red light traffic enforcement program.
Those attorneys, Jacie Zolna and Myron Cherry, of the firm of Myron Cherry and Associates, of Chicago, trumpeted the settlement as an “unprecedented” win for Chicago residents and others who were made to pay fines of $100 per violation under the red light camera program, even though they did not receive two notices and given the proper amount of time to contest the tickets, as required under the ordinance that established the program.
Under the terms of the deal, the city has agreed to set up a $26.75 million fund to pay out refunds of up to $50 per ticket issued under the program from its inception to May 2015. Additionally, the city would authorize the forgiveness of up to $12 million in debt owed for unpaid tickets during that same time period.
The city’s chief lawyer, Ed Siskel, said the deal is needed to minimize the risk to city taxpayers, who otherwise could be on the hook for $250 million to $700 million, or more, should the case go to trial and a court declare all tickets issued under the program to be void.
The settlement deal was approved by the city’s Finance Committee, under the control of 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke, on Monday, July 24. It is expected to be considered by the full City Council on Wednesday, July 26.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys at the Cherry firm could also be in line to reap a windfall from the settlement.
Under the deal, city officials said the Cherry lawyers have indicated they will ask the court to allow them to claim $11.5 million in fees for their work on the litigation. While the final amount will be determined by the judge presiding in the case, the city’s Department of Law has indicated it will “not be taking a position” on the fee request.
For decades, Cherry and other attorneys at the firm have taken on “complex litigation” cases in Cook County Circuit Court, Chicago’s federal courts and elsewhere, including a number of high profile cases.
In California, for instance, the firm in February won approval of a class action settlement with Uber, over allegations the ridesharing company had overcharged customers by making users pay a 20 percent “gratuity” for drivers, while the company pocketed a portion of the fee. The settlement paid $343,000 to class members, according to federal court documents. Cherry and the other attorneys working on the case won approval of $431,000 in fees.
In Chicago federal court, also in February, the Cherry firm won approval of a $2 million settlement on behalf of a class of United Airlines pilots who alleged the airline had underpaid them for three years while a new collective bargaining agreement was negotiated. The Cherry firm lawyers won approval for $700,000 in fees from that case, court records show.
Still pending in Chicago federal court, attorneys with the Cherry firm are among a group of trial lawyers representing thousands of plaintiffs suing AbbVie and other drugmakers for allegedly misrepresenting the benefits of testosterone replacement therapy drugs, like Androgel, and ignoring the alleged harm the drugs have caused to patients.
And the Cherry firm also is leading the representation of a group of assistant managers suing sub sandwich restaurant chain Jimmy John’s for allegedly misclassifying those assistant store managers as exempt from overtime law requirements.
In Cook County court, in addition to the class action lawsuit over the red light camera program, the firm has also led lawsuits against the Cook County Circuit Clerk’s office for allegedly wrongfully assessing fees to litigants filing motions. That case was dismissed, but has been appealed.
Myron Cherry and his law firm have also been regular contributors to Democratic politicians and political committees in Chicago, statewide and nationally.
According to online state contribution records, Cherry and his law firm have donated more than $127,000 to candidates and causes in Illinois since the mid-1990s.
Most recently, records indicate the Cherry firm donated $5,000 on July 18 to The Burnham Committee, a political committee headed by Burke. In 2010 and 2009, the Cherry firm also donated $1,500 and $5,000, respectively, to The Burnham Committee.
In 2015, Cherry also donated $1,000 to Burke and $500 to Burke’s 14th Ward Regular Democratic Organization.
And in 2014, Cherry and his firm donated a combined $75,000 to the campaign of former Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, in his unsuccessful contest with current Illinois governor, Republican Bruce Rauner.