Texting while driving. | Sun-Times photo illustration

SNEED EXCLUSIVE: Suit claims city distracted-driving tickets illegal

SHARE SNEED EXCLUSIVE: Suit claims city distracted-driving tickets illegal
SHARE SNEED EXCLUSIVE: Suit claims city distracted-driving tickets illegal

Did you get a city of Chicago ticket for distracted driving?

Sneed hears an effort is afoot to get the $100 check you wrote to City Hall back!

• Translation: A lawsuit was filed Tuesday morning alleging Chicago illegally profited from ticketing “distracted drivers” on cellphones between January 2010 and at least 2015 by denying them their day in the proper court.

So how much money might the city have to cough up?

According to Chicago Police Department statistics obtained by Sneed earlier this year, the police issued 45,672 tickets for the improper use of mobile devices in 2014 alone! So if a judge grants the case class-action status, that could mean a lot of drivers seeking damages from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration.

Let’s back up.

It’s no secret texting and using a handheld mobile device while driving is toxic, illegal and can be deadly.

But three drivers allege the city found a way to illegally pocket all the fines and not share them with the county and the state, which they say is required by law.

The suit, filed by attorneys Myron Cherry and Jacie Zolna, claims the three plaintiffs, Rabbi Aaron Potek, Adina Klein and Stephen Michelini, were fined approximately $100 each.

“Instead of following the law and sending the ticketed ‘distracted drivers’ to state traffic court — which is mandated by law — the city circumvented the law by ‘misrouting’ them to the city’s own ‘administrative justice system’ so the city could pocket the money and not share it with the state and the county,” Zolna said.

In 2009, the state enacted a statute forbidding the use of “electronic communications devices” while driving … and put violators at risk of losing their driving privileges.

“For years, the city of Chicago operated a private court system, called the Department of Administrative hearings (DOAH), that it funds and controls — and issued ANOV (Administrative Notice of Violation) citations to distracted drivers,” Zolna contended.

“This system enabled the driver’s guilt or innocence to be determined by an unelected administrative officer who is on the city’s payroll and where the rules of evidence do not apply,” said Cherry.

According to the lawsuit, “money was the other reason the city funneled alleged violators into private courts rather than state traffic court. Whenever a violator is convicted in the city’s private system of justice, the city keeps every cent of the fine.

“But when a distracted driver is convicted in State Traffic court, the city must share a portion of the revenue with the State or Cook County,” according to the suit.

The lawsuit wants all  money collected via the DOAH court system from the beginning of 2010 through the end of 2015 awarded to the plaintiffs and prospective class members.

Said City Hall law department spokesman Bill McCaffrey, “While we have not yet fully reviewed and evaluated the complaint, we plan to vigorously defend against this lawsuit.”

Last April, Sneed reported shocking statistics which showed a precipitous drop in the issuance of Chicago traffic citations and violations from 45,672 in 2014;  26,092 in 2015; 168 in 2016 and 74 as of April 2017!

Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson later told Sneed:

“Prior to 2015, we were writing tickets for distracted driving on what was known as ANOV citations [Administrative Notice of Ordinance Violation]. . . . It didn’t require police officers to come to court. People either paid their ticket via mail or went to an administrative office outside of traffic court to contest it.

“Sometime in mid-2015, the state law changed regarding the issuance of ANOV citations involving distracted drivers , which meant we could no longer issue them that way; they had to be issued along with a moving traffic violation — which required police officers to go to traffic court.

“Then the city passed an ordinance to come into compliance with state law.

“After that point, the only way to ticket for distracted driving had to be accompanied with moving in traffic on a cellphone, and it required an appearance at traffic court, where it is hard to find parking spaces,” Johnson said. “I think police officers stopped writing them because it is a hassle, and most of them don’t like going to traffic court for a lot of reasons.

“We’ve got to find a way to make it more convenient for a police officer to go to court by either relocating traffic court or researching the violation to see if we can return it to an ANOV citation.”

Stay tuned.

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