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Just a Darn Minute, Class Tells Houston

HOUSTON (CN) - Houston and a private contractor are adding an illegal $300 surcharge to fines for drivers convicted of failure to display a license, a class action claims in Federal Court.

Named plaintiff Bertha Fontenot sued Houston, Maximus Inc. and its successor, Courtview Justice Solutions Inc.

Maximus is a publicly traded Virginia company based in Reston, Va. It employs more than 8,800 people worldwide, according to its website.

Courtview Justice Solutions is a Delaware corporation with its home office in North Canton, Ohio. It provides case management systems for courts, attorneys and jails, according to its website.

In a statement on the Maximus website, its CEO Richard Montoni says: "We partner with government agencies across North America, Australia, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia to operate more efficient and cost-effective health and human services programs."

Fontenot claims that in April 2003 the Houston City Council approved a $20 million contract with Maximus to design and implement a "a new near-paperless case management system that would replace the Houston Municipal Court's 1980s legacy technology with a state of the art system" for the more than 1 million traffic tickets the city processes each year.

The system, known as the Municipal Courts Integrated Management System, or ICMS, went live in April 2006, Fontenot says.

"Significant problems arose during the implementation of the ICMS. During the course of the project, disputes between defendant city of Houston and defendant Maximus resulted in litigation and mediation," the complaint states.

"In 2008, defendant city of Houston and defendant Maximus entered into a settlement agreement under which Maximus had to refund $7 million that it had been paid.

"The City of Houston was allowed to continue to utilize the ICMS system, with

support provided on a time-and-materials basis by defendant Maximus and its successor, defendant Courtview.

"At the same time, defendant City of Houston retained the services of other vendors to attempt to bring online alternatives for a new court data and case management system. Defendant city of Houston now refers to the ICMS developed and supported by defendant Maximus and its successor, defendant Courtview, as a 'Failed System.'"

The city has budged $14 million to replace the system, Fontenot says.

"Despite knowing that the ICMS was a failure, defendant City of Houston continued to utilize ICMS to process traffic citations issued by the Houston Police Department," the complaint states.

Fontenot says Texas enacted a "Driver Responsibility Program" that allows cities to impose surcharges for convictions on these charges: driving while intoxicated, driving without a valid driver's license, driving without valid insurance and driving with a suspended registration.

A failure to display a license conviction is not subject to the surcharge, Fontenot says.

She says the first conviction for failure to display a license is punishable by a fine of $200 or less; the second conviction within one year after the first is punishable by a fine of not more than $200, and a third conviction within one year after the second by a fine of not more than $500.

"With implementation of the new system, defendants began reporting convictions of violating Section 521.025 (failure to have license on your person and display; which is not a surchargeable offense) as being a conviction of Section 521.021 (driving without a valid, required license; which is a surchargeable offense)," the complaint states.

"As a result of the misconduct of defendant City of Houston, defendant Maximus and defendant Courtview, persons convicted of Section 521.025 (failure to have license on your person and display) are subjected to significant penalties in the form of 'surcharges' of up to $300 that are not authorized by any legislative enactment or lawful authority of any sort.

"As a practical matter, such persons are convicted of one offense but then - because of defendants - penalized as though they had been convicted of any entirely different and more serious offense.

"Defendants report to the Texas Department of Public Safety, and imposition of the surcharge, comes without notice or hearing." (Parentheses in complaint.)

Fontenot seeks class damages for due process violations and defamation.

She also wants an injunction ordering defendants to stop reporting failure to display license convictions as failure to have a license, and a declaration that defendants' invalid surcharges violate the U.S. Constitution.

She is represented by Richard Norman with Crowley Norman in Houston.

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