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Court Approves Red Light Camera Class Action Against Chicago, Illinois
Judge certifies class action lawsuit against Chicago, Illinois to force refund of illegally issued photo tickets.

Jacie Zolna
Motorists in Chicago, Illinois want refunds for red light camera citations, and they are likely to get them after a Cook County court's ruling Wednesday. Judge Kathleen G. Kennedy certified a class action suit against the city for failing to comply with its own ticketing ordinance. The ruling was handed down just one day after the same lawyers suing the city filed a separate suit designed to nullify the efforts of Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) to use a new ordinance to evade responsibility for returning the money.

"On the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal fines and penalties, the city recently passed an ordinance that purports to allow it to issue new tickets and initiate new hearings that will create new liabilities, fines and penalties based on tickets issued years ago that a judge has already ruled were void," motorist attorney Jacie Zolna argued. "Unfortunately for the city... the Illinois Vehicle Code and the Illinois and United States Constitutions specifically prohibit the procedures that the ordinance purports to authorize."

Windy City officials found themselves in a difficult position in February as Cook County Judge Kathleen G. Kennedy found that Chicago failed to comply with the second notice provisions specified in the city's own ordinance. Officials were skipping steps in order to speed up collections.

"The alleged practice of accelerating late fees, without statutory compliuance, is sufficient to show a violation of the fundamental principles of justice, equity and good conscience," Judge Kennedy wrote in her February order in the Simpson v. Chicago case.

Wednesday's ruling means that potentially a million vehicle owners could get their money back. Rather than refund $200 million in tickets, the city in September passed a new ordinance establishing a "new and separate assessment of liability" for those citations. The effort was sold to the media as a "do over" that required photo ticket recipients to appear in person to prove their innocence before a city administrative hearing officer for a violation that could have been up to five years old. Zolna points to the state's red light camera law prohibiting this move, since the statute sets firm deadlines for adjudicating photo tickets.

"These laws, which the mayor cannot simply change upon being caught breaking them, render the automated enforcement ordinance illegal and unconstitutional," Zolna said.

The second lawsuit outright accuses the city of corruption for re-writing the law to deny motorists due process rights. The claim is not much of a stretch, considering a city transportation official has been sentenced to ten years in prison for accepting $2 million in bribes from Redflex. The suit asks the court to overturn the "do over" ordinance while the first case continues to seek a final order to refund $200 million to affected motorists.

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