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One Red-Light Camera Lawsuit Thrown Out, But Another Is Still Going Forward

By Mike Brockway | April 4, 2016 6:10am | Updated on April 4, 2016 8:29am
 A sign warns driver of red light camera enforcement at Foster Avenue and Broadway.
A sign warns driver of red light camera enforcement at Foster Avenue and Broadway.
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CHICAGO — On the heels of a ruling allowing one red-light camera lawsuit against the City of Chicago to move forward toward class action status, another Cook County Circuit Court judge put the brakes on another suit on Friday.

Attorneys for the case were hoping to get a green light from the court to move the case to class action status, which they hoped would help them recover more than $600 million in fines, fees and interest paid by vehicle owners.

In her ruling, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Rita Novak threw out the lawsuit.

The suit, Kata v. City of Chicago, has been lingering in Cook County Circuit Court since it was filed four years ago this month. The case was postponed twice while another lawsuit with similar claims, Keating v. City of Chicago, was moving through the appellate court and ultimately the Illinois Supreme Court. But the state supreme court deadlocked on that suit after two justices recused themselves, thus ending that lawsuit.

Kata v. City of Chicago argued that when the city initiated its red-light camera program back in 2003, Illinois law specifically prohibited this type of automated traffic enforcement. But the judge said none of the plaintiff's tickets were older than 2006, the year the Illinois General Assembly approved a law allowing municipalities located in just eight counties to utilize red-light camera enforcement.

Mike Brockway talks about where the lawsuits head next.

The plaintiffs also argued Chicago did not re-enact its own municipal law after the state passed its red-light camera law in 2006. They also claim because the law was crafted to only apply in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry, St. Clair and Will counties — and not in all Illinois counties — the law violated Illinois' constitution.

But the judge shot down these arguments as well and agreed with city lawyers who argued the state law was constitutional and the city's law was still valid.

Lead plaintiff attorney Patrick Keating was disappointed in the judge's ruling.

"We're a disappointed and a little surprised by the ruling," he said.

Steve Patton, the city's Corporation Counsel, was happy with the judge's decision to dismiss this case.

"We are pleased that the court dismissed this lawsuit and found the red-light automated enforcement program to be legal and constitutionally sound," Patton said in a statement.

The suit also contended the city had issued 77,000 tickets improperly at intersections where yellow light times were below the 3-second minimum set by federal transportation standards, with some yellow light times as low as 2.89 seconds.

While Novak conceded the possible safety issues with short yellow light times, she agreed with the city's argument that there's no legal force behind the U.S. Department of Transportation's guidelines on street light timing as there's no law on the books mandating minimum yellow light times.

Keating was not sure if they'll appeal the Novak's ruling, but is leaving all possibilities on the table.

"The option at this point would be a motion to reconsider and possibly an appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court," he said. "We're still evaluating those options."

Just six weeks ago, Judge Kathleen Kennedy dealt a blow to the city when she allowed a separate lawsuit challenging how the city administrates its red light and speed camera program to move forward. That lawsuit alleges the city did not follow its own municipal code when it didn’t mail a second notice of violation and then prematurely doubled fines at 21 days instead of the 25 days spelled out in the law.

Chicago's red-light camera program is the nation's largest with 302 cameras at 147 intersections.


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