Chicago could be forced to refund millions of dollars in speed camera fines issued to “tens, if not hundreds of thousands” of motorists on “non-school days,” under a class-action lawsuit that accuses City Hall of thumbing its nose at state law.
The previously undisclosed lawsuit, quietly filed in Circuit Court on Halloween night, accuses Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration of “blatantly and intentionally” ignoring the ground rules established by the Illinois General Assembly before speed cameras were installed around Chicago’s schools and parks.
The statute clearly states, “Violations shall be recorded, only on school days.”
In spite of that language, plaintiffs’ attorney Jacie Zolna said the city issued more than 34,000 tickets at 58 locations during July and August alone.
Additional tickets were issued during Thanksgiving break, when school was not in session. The pattern was probably repeated during Christmas break, although those violations have not been posted on the city’s website.
Zolna represents the only named plaintiff in the case. Ken Maschek was slapped with and paid a $100 ticket on June, 26, 2014, on a day when school was not in session. He was allegedly driving 41 mph in a 30 mph zone near Lane Tech High School.
But the lawsuit, which has not yet been granted class-action status, demands that the cash-strapped city stop all ticketing when school is not in session and refund all fines similarly paid by motorists ticketed during non-school days.
Since motorists get off with a warning after the first violation, motorists subsequently ticketed could also be due refunds. City Hall may ultimately owe refunds to “tens, if not hundreds of thousands of citizens issued warnings or violations that were illegal and unconstitutional,” the suit contends.
“The city had no power under the state constitution to be enforcing those speed cameras during the times they were. We’re asking the city to void all of those illegal tickets and warnings and refund the money,” Zolna said Friday.
“They’re trying to run these things as often as they can to collect as much money as they can.”
Emanuel dodged questions about the lawsuit at an unrelated news conference Friday.
“I’m not a lawyer. . . . I haven’t looked at the lawsuit. My Law Department will look at it,” the mayor said.
Told his administration is already seeking to have the suit thrown out of court, the mayor said, “Then, you have the answer. They’re seeking to dismiss it.”
In its motion to dismiss, the city has argued that, since there were some classes held during the summer, those days count as school days and that, therefore, speed camera violations were permitted.
Law Department spokesman John Holden said: “This baseless suit was filed several months ago and the city expects to prevail in its motion to dismiss.”
Zolna scoffed at the city’s argument.
He noted that state law defines the regular academic year as including at least 176 days of “actual pupil attendance . . . excluding summer school.”
To count as school days, there must be: “not less than five hours” of school work under “direct supervision” of licensed teachers” or school personnel; “50 percent or more of district students” in attendance and education “at all grade levels.”
“Everyone knows what a school day is. Go to bed early. It’s a school day tomorrow. It’s a day when classes are held and all students are there,” he said.
Chicago’s first speed camera went live at a school on Nov.25, 2013.
As of July 3, 2014, the city had issued 230,000 tickets at 51 safety zones around schools and parks and 1.25 million warnings.
Chicago now has 132 speed cameras at 60 safety zones, some of them with more than one camera.
Emanuel has insisted that the controversial program is about children’s safety — not about raising money.