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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Chicagoans Challenge Red Light Cameras

CHICAGO (CN) - Chicagoans say in a state class action that tickets issued by the city's red light cameras are unconstitutional, and want the city to refund the millions it has collected since the cameras were installed in 2003.

Lead plaintiffs Terie Kata and Maureen Sullivan sued Chicago in Cook County Court.

Chicago in 2003 installed cameras with sensors that detect when cars cross an intersection during a red light. When triggered, the cameras record a video clip showing the traffic signal and the car moving in the intersection. The city then sends a violation notice by mail to the vehicle's owner - not necessarily the driver - demanding payment of a $100 fine.

Chicago issues more 500,000 red light violation notices per year, according to the complaint. If a ticket recipient does not pay on time, the fine is doubled with an automatic $100 late fee, and the car may be booted, the plaintiffs say.

"The Illinois Vehicle Code provides for enforcement of all traffic regulations governing the movement of vehicles (including municipal ordinances) through a uniform, statewide program. Pursuant to this statewide program, upon an arresting officer issuing a citation, referred to as a 'Uniform Citation Notice,' the traffic offence is then adjudicated in circuit court," the complaint states.

But the plaintiffs say that "under the Red Light Camera Program, no Uniform Traffic Citation is issued (in fact, no officer issues any citation) and the offense is not prosecuted in the Circuit Court. ...

"Since its inception, the City's Red Light Camera Program has functioned outside the uniform statewide provisions relating to traffic violation cases."

The class claims that "at some point before May 20, 2005, one or more high-ranking officials of Chicago realized that the city's camera enforcement system was not authorized under Illinois law, and enlisted the aid of one or more members of Chicago's delegation to the Illinois General Assembly to develop and pass a statute ostensibly to legitimize Chicago's then-illegal camera enforcement system."

But the bill's "main proponent in the Senate, from Chicago," told a Senate committee in March 2006 that "'at the request of some members in the - from both parties in the Transportation Committee, they indicated they didn't want to have this option in their counties, so we limited it to the more populous counties,'" the complaint states, citing a transcript of the Senate committee hearing.

The class claims that "the limitation of cameras to municipalities in just eight named counties violates the Illinois Constitution of 1970 because it creates facially local legislation which could have been made general."

The complaint states: "While the statute irrationally and randomly favors certain municipalities, it irrationally disfavors the motorists in those municipalities (or, more specifically, the owners of vehicles more often driven in those municipalities).

"There is no rational basis why the clear financial benefits of cameras to local governments, and the clear financial detriment to numerous owners of vehicles, may be applied only in certain parts of the state." (Parentheses in complaint.)

It adds:"(E)ven if the enabling law is valid and does not allow municipalities like Chicago to adopt red light camera ordinances as defined, that law cannot be used to breathe life into Chicago's void 2003 ordinance or validate Chicago's Red Light Camera Program, which was unauthorized by law at its inception and has remained so at all times up to this date; Chicago program is and was void ad initio.

"Chicago, for reasons known only to it, never re-enacted a Red Light Camera Ordinance or otherwise acted to legalize its void Red Light Camera Program after the enabling law became effective in May 2006. ...

"As a result, since 2003, the members plaintiff class have been paying millions of dollars annually to Chicago pursuant to improper demands contained in illegal red light violation notices."

They seek declaratory judgment that Chicago's Red Light Camera Program is illegal, an injunction against its continued operation, and restitution of the money to city collected under the program.

The putative class is represented by Derek Brandt, with Simmons, Browder, Gianaris, Angelides & Barnerd.

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