Suit says city ‘hammered its most vulnerable’ motorists with duplicate tickets

SHARE Suit says city ‘hammered its most vulnerable’ motorists with duplicate tickets

Chicago City Hall. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Chicago “hammered its most vulnerable” citizens with “illegal and duplicative tickets” issued on the same day for the same city sticker and expired plate violations, a new lawsuit contends.

City code expressly forbids the city from fining motorists more than once-per-day for the two commonplace violations.

It states, “A separate and distinct offense shall be considered as committed for each and every day any vehicle is used upon the public ways of the city” without a valid sticker or plate.

But the Circuit Court suit filed this week accuses Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration of thumbing its nose at the one-ticket-a-day-for-the-same-violation limit.

That has left thousands of motorists little choice but to pay the fines to avoid even more severe penalties, ranging from garnishment of wages and hefty collection fees to vehicle impoundment and license suspension, the lawsuit contends.

Two motorists are named plaintiffs: Rodney Shelton and Orlando Jones.

On Oct. 12, 2014, Shelton was ticketed twice for failing to display a valid city sticker and twice for driving on an expired license plate.

Jones was double-ticketed four times three years apart, the lawsuit states. The most recent occurred on Feb. 12, 2018.

The suit seeks class-action status on behalf of thousands of drivers similarly targeted for the same violation on the same day.

It also asks the court to void all duplicate tickets, order refunds for targeted motorists and to issue a preliminary injunction demanding that the city cease and desist.

The complaint contends that City Hall promised to remedy the problem, but never did.

“In short, the city hammered its most vulnerable citizens with illegal and duplicative tickets, falsely assured the public that it would remedy the situation, then stiffed effected motorists and kept all of the illegal fines and penalties for itself,” the suit contends.

“Plaintiffs bring this suit to get the city to do what it should have done in the first place and which it initially said it was going to do on its own: Provide refunds of the illegal fines and penalties and extinguish the unlawful debt.”

Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey refused to comment on the lawsuit, claiming he has not yet received a copy.

The lawsuit was filed this week by a law firm with a track record for winning similar judgments against the city: Myron M. Cherry & Associates LLP.

That’s the firm that forced the Emanuel administration to pay $38.75 million in refunds to motorists denied due process after being slapped with tickets based on information from red-light and speed cameras.

The same firm is trying to force the city to pay similar refunds to motorists ticketed for driving while talking on cell phones; those citations were being routed to administrative hearing officers, instead of to Traffic Court, where a pending lawsuit claims they belong.

Earlier this year, a joint investigation by ProPublica and WBEZ-FM Radio shined the spotlight on the punitive nature of sticker enforcement and racial disparities in the ticketing system.

The investigation disclosed: only one in three sticker tickets issued during 2016 were paid within a year; black neighborhoods were disproportionately targeted for sticker violations, with tickets issued by police driving the difference; and, sticker tickets issued to motorists in more affluent neighborhoods were more likely to be dismissed because those motorists were more likely to appeal.

After analyzing ticketing information since January, 2007, ProPublica and WBEZ also pinpointed nearly 20,000 incidents when the same vehicle was slapped with multiple sticker tickets on the same day.

Under fire for presiding over an excessively-punitive city sticker enforcement system that has driven thousands of motorists into bankruptcy, City Clerk Anna Valencia convinced the City Council in early November to ease the burden on 500,000 delinquent motorists.

Wrapped into the revenue ordinance tied to Emanuel’s final budget is Valencia’s plan to create a four-month city sticker. That will give hard-pressed motorists the option of paying $29.28 three times a year, instead of nearly $90 in one lump sum.

At the same time, the city will offer a 31-day “forgiveness program” allowing scofflaws to get on the right side of the law, simply by purchasing a valid sticker.

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