Lawsuit challenging traffic ticket fines, late fees gets a boost

Let’s hope the suit helps put Chicago on the road to finding other ways to raise city revenue.

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Chicago might he unlawfully collecting more revenue from parking and traffic tickets than is due, thanks to fines and late fees, a suit alleges.

Chicago might he unlawfully collecting more revenue from parking and traffic tickets than state law allows, a lawsuit alleges.

Alex Wroblewski/Sun-Times

The city collects about $270 million in parking ticket and traffic camera fines each year, with a good amount of that small fortune coming from late fees and penalties tacked on when the citations are not paid on time.

But a once-dismissed class-action suit challenging the legality of the amount of those penalty fees — and the onerous way they mount up — was given new life by a state Appellate Court panel last week.

This is good. We hope it leads to a ruling that curbs the added fees, and provides relief to those in the suit.

The 2018 class-action suit alleges the penalty fees tacked on to unpaid tickets violate Illinois law because they often balloon the price of correcting the infraction beyond the $250 limit set under state statute.

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“This lawsuit could help a lot of people,” the plaintiffs’ attorney Jacie Zolna said last Friday. “The city is addicted to these penalties, they use them as revenue, and they can cause a real downward spiral for a lot of people.”

The suit seemed dead-in-the-water last year when a Cook County judge tossed the case, ruling the city could indeed collect fines past the $250 limit — as much as $500.

But the Illinois Appellate Court last week sent the suit back to Cook County Circuit Court for, essentially, a do-over.

Zolna said winning the suit could mean refunds for those who received tickets and late fees.

To be clear, we’re not calling for amnesty for alleged ticket scofflaws, or even a halt to overdue fines.

But there are limits. It’s wrong for the city to pursue amounts beyond the $250 allowed by the state.

A city Law Department spokeswoman said the agency is reviewing the ruling.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to end the city’s “addiction” to vehicle fines and fees.

And her administration has taken some steps to address some of the more draconian practices to get drivers to pay up.

For instance, the city no longer seeks license suspensions over unpaid tickets, and has set up more affordable ticket payment plans.

But while addressing that addiction, the city still joneses for ticket revenue. The mayor re-tuned speed cameras in 2021 to issue tickets to drivers exceeding the speed limit by 6 miles per hour rather than 10 mph.

The city must find other ways to raise revenue while maintaining traffic safety. Let’s hope the class-action suit helps get Chicago on that road.

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