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Illinois: Chicago Defends Use Of Illegally Short Yellow Times
After his last red light camera case tied in the Illinois Supreme Court,

Patrick J. KeatingChicago, Illinois is saying "too bad" to motorists upset at receiving red light camera tickets at intersections where the yellow warning times were shorter than permitted under federal regulations. The city's lawyers have been mustering arguments to fend off a challenge by attorney Patrick J. Keating who has been trying to take down the scandal-plagued system for several years. The class action suit is something of a rematch as the state Supreme Court failed to reach a consensus when it considered a similar case by Keating in November. A hearing on the newly revised arguments is scheduled for next week before Cook County Circuit Court Judge Rita Novak.

Keating's contention on behalf of five affected motorists is that the program violates state and federal law, particularly the use of yellow signal warning times below the federal minimum of 3.0 seconds. The city's lawyers insist Chicago can get away with 2.9 second yellows because federal statutes contain no explicit penalties for flouting the law.

"Fatal to plaintiffs' claims, however, is that neither the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices nor the identified statutes impose a legally-enforceable minimum yellow change interval because the MUTCD 'describes the application of traffic control devices, but shall not be a legal requirement for their installation,'" city attorney Stephen R. Patton wrote to Judge Novak.

Chicago insists that a 1973 court case Blase v. Illinois renders the federal regulations a mere suggestion or recommendation. Chicago's red light camera vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia, issued over 77,000 tickets to motorists at intersections where the yellow lasted for less than three seconds. Keating argued that the city's legal problems began with the way state lawmakers botched its attempt to give legal sanction to the ticketing program years after it had began.

"The hurriedly drafted 2006 amendment to the vehicle code to allow red light cameras statewide, intended as 'legislative cover' for Chicago's illegal program, could not pass the state Senate until after legislators whittled away 94 counties where, according to sponsor John Cullerton, legislators 'didn't want to have this option in their counties,'" Keating explained in an email to reporters. "In the rush to protect the city, the General Assembly passed a rare piece of facially 'local legislation,' which is barred by the state constitution."

Chicago has an extra headache in this case considering the top US executive for Redflex is expected to plead guilty next month to bribing city officials to secure the red light camera contract -- the most lucrative of its type in the world.

"At the time the city and Redflex began their business arrangement, both knew or should have known that Chicago had no legal authority to operate a red light camera program like that contemplated in their agreements, and so the agreements were void and against public policy," Keating wrote.