City Settles $100,000 Parking Ticket Case: 'It was a Nightmare'
By Mike Brockway on August 22, 2013 6:40am
O'HARE — Jennifer Fitzgerald's parking ticket nightmare is over.
The City of Chicago recently agreed to drop more than $100,000 in parking ticket fines on a car registered in Fitzgerald's name that racked up a record 678 tickets, said Law Department spokesman Roderick Drew.
The agreement to reduce the final parking ticket bill to $4,470 was signed just more than a week ago.
Robin Omahana, the attorney representing Fitzgerald, said his client is happy with the resolution.
"She's very grateful it's all over," Omahana said. "She's pleased we got the city down to just 4 percent of their total claim."
Fitzgerald rose to the top spot on Chicago's parking ticket scofflaw list after her ex-boyfriend, Brandon Preveau, abandoned a car registered in her name in an O'Hare Airport parking lot in 2009.
She said she was unable to retrieve the car from the lot, where it racked up the 678 parking tickets totaling more than $106,000 while parked in the same spot for 2½ years. The car finally was towed from the lot by the city in April 2012.
Fitzgerald, an unemployed single mother, was overwhelmed by the onslaught of violation notices the city mailed to her. Without the ability to pay and her driver's license revoked because of the tickets, she secured the free legal help of Omahana, who filed a lawsuit against the city and her ex-boyfriend late last fall.
"It was a nightmare for her until I got involved," Omahana said. "I thought it would just be writing a couple of letters and making a few a few phone calls. Before I filed the lawsuit, the city would not budge off the $106,000. They were taking a hard line."
The lawsuit contended Preveau had bought the Chevrolet Monte Carlo in 2008 from Fitzgerald's uncle for $600 but registered the car with the Illinois Secretary of State under her name without her knowledge. The complaint said Preveau was the owner and should be responsible for the six-figure sum.
Omahana also argued, based on municipal code, that the city should have towed the car years earlier and that only a fraction of the tickets issued were written legitimately.
Omahana said he thinks when the details he laid out in his complaint were made public, the city became more open to negotiation.
"They had a little egg on their face with writing so many tickets on one car," Omahana said.
Indeed, before the case had its first hearing in front of a judge, lawyers for the city tried to strike a deal with Fitzgerald for less than $5,000. The problem for the jobless Fitzgerald was coming up with a down payment, a situation that she said prevented her from accepting the city's heavily discounted settlement.
When Fitzgerald's lawsuit came before Cook County Circuit Judge Thomas Allen in April, he dismissed the case but allowed Omahana to file an amended suit.
Negotiations between the city and attorneys for Fitzgerald and Preveau began anew over the summer, with Allen stepping in at one point, according to both Omahana and the city.
The agreement to settle the case for $4,470 had a bit of creative financing behind it. Preveau agreed to pay the $1,600 down payment necessary to initiate a payment plan, and Fitzgerald is required to make monthly payments of $78 for three years.
"She couldn't afford a down payment, so he paid the down payment," Omahana said. "He was dragged kicking and screaming into paying anything."
"When that's completed she can get her driver's license back and move on," Drew said.
Preveau's attorney, Matthew Prengaman, said his client is relieved the ordeal is over.
"I think he's glad to have it behind him," Prengaman said. "I don't think he was happy about having to pay. But he sees the logic behind settling the case."
The alternative, Prengaman said, was to pay "me two or three times that [settlement] amount to continue to fight."
"I was extremely confident my client would be victorious. He felt it was in his best interest to settle the case," he said.