Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Judge Tosses Challenge to Traffic Cameras

CHICAGO (CN) - A class action challenging the legality of Chicago's red-light camera system, one of several in recent years, was dismissed with prejudice by a Cook County, Ill., judge.

The 2012 lawsuit claimed that the cameras were illegal because they violate the Illinois Constitution and because Chicago had no authority to pass an ordinance that regulates the program.

A state law passed in 2006 allows red-light cameras, which take a picture of the license plates of cars running red lights and lead to fines issued to the owners, only in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry, St. Clair and Will counties.

According to the plaintiffs, a statute must apply to the whole state unless there is a valid reason for local legislation, and the red-light cameras create a disadvantage to those living in the affected counties.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Rita Novak said in her April 1 ruling that the localized rules make sense in this case. The counties that have a red-light camera program are the state's most populous and surround the major metropolitan areas of Chicago and St. Louis, according to the judge.

Novak found that classifying the counties "based on population and proximity, while imperfect, is not based on an irrational difference in situation or condition."

Because there are more cars, intersections and pedestrians in those counties, Novak said, state lawmakers "could have rationally concluded that these areas have different traffic enforcement needs than the rest of the state."

Chicago also argued that it has "inherent home rule authority to regulate traffic within its borders," and the judge agreed.

Steve Patton, counsel for the city, said in a statement: "We are pleased that the court dismissed this lawsuit and found the red light automated enforcement program to be legal and constitutionally sound."

Attorney Patrick Keating, who represented the plaintiffs, did not respond to a request for comment from Courthouse News.

Chicago started installing its cameras in 2003 and lists on its website 306 intersections that currently have one, bringing in over $60 million in fines every year.

Novak noted in her opinion that "the cameras have been controversial since their installation," and "aggrieved motorists have filed several civil lawsuits challenging the program's legality under a variety of theories."

The city itself sued the original operator of its cameras, Redflex Traffic Systems, last year after Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired the company amidst a bribery scandal.

Redflex executives allegedly paid city official John Bills to secure city council votes and manipulate tests and reports on the company's equipment to get the contract. Several Redflex employees and city officials pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges.

A 2014 class action lawsuit against the city involving the bribes was thrown out in December. The judge ruled that there was no reason the plaintiffs should get back part of the fines they paid due to the bribes.

However, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy ruled in February that another lawsuit will move forward. That one says the city is violating its own municipal codes in the way it issues violation notices and in the time it gives citizens to pay or contest the ticket.

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