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Want a Refund for Your Red-Light Camera Ticket? Not So Fast, City Says

By Mike Brockway | February 25, 2016 5:25am
 A pair of signs warn drivers of red light camera enforcement along Cicero Avenue.
A pair of signs warn drivers of red light camera enforcement along Cicero Avenue.
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CHICAGO — Drivers excited at the prospect of having past red-light and speed camera tickets voided — and getting fines refunded — should put the brakes on their enthusiasm, city officials said this week.

Despite a ruling last week in which a judge said the city's automated ticketing programs violate "fundamental principles of justice," officials said there are no plans to return the hundreds of millions in fines and late fees collected from hundreds of thousands of drivers.

That's because the ruling by Cook County Circuit Judge Kathleen Kennedy did not officially void any tickets nor stop the city from issuing new ones, said Bill McCaffrey, spokesman for the city's Law Department.

Mike Brockway tells us more about the various lawsuits over the cameras.

And there will be no change to how the city adjudicates camera violations going forward, he said.

"The judge in this case did not rule on any claims of this case and did not void any tickets," McCaffrey said in a written statement. "The city has procedures in place that guarantee that individuals who believe their tickets were improperly issued can contest them through the administrative process, where they receive a hearing and impartial review of the evidence."

And as far as refunds, it could take several years to determine if the lawsuit has merit, and if so, for a judgment to be awarded. In fact, the suit filed on behalf of three ticketed drivers is not yet a class-action lawsuit.

Still, Kennedy's ruling Friday guarantees the suit will continue and gave supporters much to be happy about.

The city sought to dismiss the lawsuit, filed last March, but was rebuffed by Kennedy, who through her ruling said due process was not given to ticketed drivers and the lawsuit shows “a violation of the fundamental principles of justice, equity and good conscience.”

In allowing the lawsuit to move forward, Kennedy challenged the legitimacy of Chicago's automated traffic enforcement programs, which have raked in more than $600 million in the last 13 years.

“I'm obviously pleased,” lead attorney Jacie Zolna said. “It was the right decision. Even though the law required the city to follow a specific noticing process, the city didn't believe they were required to follow that law. Overall it's a pretty big victory for us.”

The lawsuit contends the city was not following its own municipal code when it sent notices to drivers for speed and red-light camera violations. The lawsuit argued that after a notice of violation went out, the law also required the city to mail out a second notice allowing an additional 14 days for a driver to pay or schedule a hearing or contest the ticket via mail. But, plaintiff lawyers contend, the city never did this.

“The court ruled the city is required to send you a second notice, and [you should] be given an additional 14-day grace period,” Zolna said. “The city skipped that step and found you liable.”

(The City Council changed the law last May, and now only one notice is sent to drivers.)

In addition, per the municipal code, unpaid ticket fines were only supposed to double after 25 days. However, the city sped up the process and doubled ticket fines after only 21 days.

“The practice was to issue a final determination after 21 days, making it more difficult to contest and then accelerating the city's ability to double and collect fines,” Zolna said.

Despite the ruling, the Law Department said the judge ruled only on the motion to dismiss the case and not on the overall merits of the case.

"The city continues to believe that the plaintiffs' claims are legally insufficient, and we are evaluating our options in this case,"  McCaffrey said. "The plaintiffs do not dispute that they violated the law, and that they received notices of these violations. It is the city's position that the plaintiffs are not entitled to any recovery, let alone any refunds."

The next step for the case is for it to get class-action certification. Zolna  said he doesn't think it's a slam dunk for certification, but he's  reasonably confident it will go through.

“I am firmly convinced we'll be certified as a class,” said Zolna.

Once certification is achieved, then the plaintiff attorneys will file discovery motions to see how many ticketed drivers are eligible to be part of the class. Only then will the full potential monetary impact on the city be known.

If Zolna can successfully prove his case, he said he believes the city would be forced to make a settlement.

“I think they should settle,” said Zolna. “The longer they fight, the worse it is for them. The closer we get to that judgment, the less leverage they would have. It if goes to judgment, it would be for the full amount.”

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