Judge greenlights class-action status for lawsuit over Chicago red-light- and speed-camera tickets
The ruling could affect 1.5 million motorists.
Some 1.5 million motorists could have Chicago red-light- and speed-camera tickets nullified now that Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy ruled that an ongoing lawsuit against the city’s program may proceed as a class-action case.
The ruling could result in a $200 million refund of fines and late fees, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Two motorists represented by attorney Jacie Zolna filed the lawsuit against the city of Chicago. Zolna alleges the city violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional right to due process by ignoring the legally required, 25-day appeal window for tickets. Under the Emanuel administration, accused motorists only had 21 days to pay red-light- and speed-camera citations. Ticketed motorists were also subject to a $100 fine if the city did not receive payment by the 21-day deadline.
According to Zolna, now that the lawsuit can proceed as a class-action case, it may include anyone fined under Chicago’s red-light- and speed-camera enforcement program.
“It’s the biggest ruling you’ll ever get in a case like this. We’re now not just representing two people, we’re representing 1.5 million people. It means we can seek relief — not just for our two clients but everyone impacted by this practice,” Zolna said in a quote reported by the Chicago Sun-Times.
City officials did not agree with Kennedy’s class-certification ruling and noted the ruling is procedural, not substantive.
The Sun-Times quoted City Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey, who said, “It does not address the merits of the plaintiff’s claims, or the facts and the law we believe make those claims legally insufficient. Among other things, plaintiffs do not dispute that they violated the law and that they received notices of, and the opportunity to contest, these violations.”
McCaffrey’s statements should come as little surprise to anyone. For years now, the Emanuel administration has been fighting tooth and nail to hold onto revenues brought in under the city’s red-light- and speed-camera programs. In response to an earlier ruling, a new city ordinance passed in September allows motorists to challenge red-light- and speed-camera tickets issued between March 23, 2010, and May 14, 2015.
Zolna responded to the ordinance by filing another lawsuit, arguing the city law violated procedural requirements of the Illinois Vehicle Code.
“City Hall wants a do-over on tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of tickets,” Zolna said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “Unfortunately, nothing in Illinois law says that if you lose the first time around you can adopt a new ordinance that lets you go back and fix it.”
Although scandal-ridden, the red-light- and speed-camera enforcement program has proved lucrative for city government, raising over $600 million in fines since the program began in 2003. Officials in the Emanuel administration as well as the mayor himself insist that the red-light- and speed-camera enforcement measures are for safety purposes and not financial reasons. However, a May 2013 audit from the Office of the Inspector General found no evidence that the Emanuel administration used safety data to determine the location of over 300 cameras.
This latest ruling is not the first of the problems for Chicago’s red-light and speed cameras and certainly won’t be the last. This case has the potential to affect over 1.5 million drivers and might result in the city’s returning hundreds of millions of dollars to motorists. Chicago officials should recognize that red-light and speed cameras perform only one function for the city: raising revenue.
Instead of trying to find ways to recoup possible losses from this 13-year shakedown, city government should focus on policies that actually keep Chicagoans safe and start addressing the city’s financial problems.