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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Class Says Chicago Can’t Reissue Void Tickets

CHICAGO (CN) — Chicagoans sued the city for passing an ordinance that will allow it to issue new tickets for red-light and speed violations that a judge declared void earlier this year.

"Once upon a time, there was a mayor out of luck," the complaint begins, with a 14-line poem that accuses Mayor Rahm Emanuel of spending "his city's last buck."

With Rumpelstiltskin on staff, "you can always balance the budget," the poem continues.

Yet "this is no fairy tale," according to the class-action complaint filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court. "It is just the latest chapter in the city of Chicago's scandal-plagued speed and red light camera program."

Lead plaintiffs Delyn McKenzie-Lopez and Erica Lieschke claim that Chicago has collected "hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and penalties from individuals accused of speed and red light camera violations" over the past decade, through the 2003 automated traffic law and 2012 automated speed enforcement programs.

"Because the city failed to properly notify these individuals of their alleged violations and illegally sped up the imposition of liability, a judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County recently held that those fines and penalties are illegal and void," the complaint states.

That order, issued in February by Judge Kathleen Kennedy in Simpson v. City of Chicago, allegedly led the mayor to "spin straw into gold to raise revenue."

That is, on Sept. 21, Emanuel signed into law "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," Tuesday's lawsuit states. (Emphasis in original).

But, according to McKenzie-Lopez and Lieschke, "it is abundantly clear that the [2016] ordinance was not passed to benefit the citizens of Chicago, but rather was a misguided and erroneous effort to make an end-run around the court's finding in the Simpson litigation that the liability, fines and penalties assessed in connection with past [automated traffic law, or ATL] and [automated speed enforcement, or ASE] violations are illegal and void."

The plaintiffs scoff at the city's alleged attempt to create new liabilities for past offenses.

"How, one might ask, can that occur in the United States of America?" the complaint asks. "The answer is that it cannot."

The lawsuit continues, "While the mayor and the city council are free to change their own local laws to their benefit and at the expense of Chicagoans — a practice which they have repeatedly and unabashedly engaged in since the filing of the Simpson suit — they are, thankfully, still bound by the laws of the state of Illinois and the Constitutions of the state of Illinois and the United States."

McKenzie-Lopez and Lieschke seek to represent a class of Chicagoans who did not receive a hearing or pay the fine before liability was determined for traffic tickets mailed from March 23, 2010 through May 14, 2015.

Lieschke also seeks to represent all those who did not receive a hearing or pay the fine before liability was determined for a ticket mailed before March 23, 2010.

McKenzie-Lopez says she paid fines for one of four alleged speed and red-light camera violations in 2014, while Lieschke says she paid for two red-light violations that allegedly occurred in 2007 and 2010.

"Unfortunately for the city, in the real world Rumpelstiltskin cannot save the day," the lawsuit states. "That is because the Illinois Vehicle Code and the Illinois and United States Constitutions specifically prohibit the procedures the ordinance purports to authorize."

The seven-count complaint asserts violations of home-rule authority, prohibition of adjudication of offenses, the 90-day notice provision, due process and equal protection, as well as a claim for illegal assessment of late-payment penalty.

The plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief and a jury trial. They are represented by Jacie Zolna with Myron Cherry & Associates in Chicago.

The city did not return a request for comment emailed Wednesday.

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