A Cook County judge has signed off on a settlement to end what plaintiffs’ lawyers have touted as the first successful class action lawsuit against the city of Chicago over alleged abuses within its red light camera program.
On Feb. 26, lawyers who said they represented a class of nearly 450,000 plaintiffs announced they had secured final approval from a Cook County judge of a deal with the city, granting what they said was $58 in relief on average for those who had received tickets under the city’s red light camera program from 2010-2015.
Jacie Zolna | Myron M. Cherry & Associates
“It’s a great settlement that is going to provide meaningful relief to a lot of people,” said attorney Jacie Zolna, of the firm of Myron M. Cherry & Associates LLC, of Chicago, who had represented the plaintiffs, in a prepared emailed statement. “More importantly, this lawsuit forced the city to change the way it was enforcing its traffic camera program. That in and of itself was a big win for Chicago motorists.”
Zolna noted the deal included $38.75 million in cash, from which the city would pay partial refunds to those improperly prosecuted, plus an additional $82 million in debt relief for those who owed unpaid tickets and other costs associated with red light camera enforcement actions.
Zolna said the total value of the settlement exceeds $125 million.
The Cherry firm, and the firm of Romanucci & Blandin, of Chicago, would receive more than $11 million in fees from the deal.
The lawsuit had been filed on behalf of more than 1.1 million people who had been made to pay fines of $100 per violation under the red light camera program, even though they had not received two notices and had not been given the proper amount of time to contest the tickets before late fees and other costs were tacked on, as required under the city’s red light camera ordinance.
The plaintiffs and the city had announced the deal in July 2017, and the Chicago City Council approved the settlement shortly after.
According to documents filed by plaintiffs’ lawyers, those submitting claims were in line to receive an average of $58 under the settlement, while others could receive yet more relief, particularly under the debt forgiveness program. They said a “typical” class member, who owed $244 to the city for the original ticket, plus late fees and administrative costs, would end up owing only about $22 for the citation.
They further trumpeted the settlement’s provision barring the city from counting the tickets against those whose vehicles the city may otherwise boot or whose drivers licenses the city may seek to revoke.
While class members still collectively owed more than $137 million in violations and fees, the lawyers said the court should approve the deal because it marked the first time the city had ever agreed to any kind of deal to end a class action over its automated traffic camera enforcement programs.
The deal had been challenged in recent weeks by an objector, represented by attorney Patrick Keating, of the firm of Roberts McGivney Zagotta, of Chicago, who had asserted the settlement was evidence of collusion between the city and plaintiffs’ lawyers, allowing the city to keep most of what it had collected and giving the lawyers too much in the deal.
In motions filed in court, Keating had asked the judge to reduce the plaintiffs’ attorneys fee by half, and had particularly sought a court order prohibiting the city from attempting to use the settlement to short-circuit other red light camera class actions, including one he is attempting to litigate.
In that lawsuit, Keating and his clients have argued the city’s red light program is illegal under the Illinois state constitution, and should be voided. He most recently lost on appeal.
In an email on Feb. 26 following the approval of the Cherry firm’s settlement, Keating said he had withdrawn his objections upon purportedly receiving assurances from the city on the record “that class members with red light tickets other than those for which they received settlement notices would still be able to pursue court remedies for those tickets.”