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Suit seeking to erase fines for distracted driving moves forward

a driver uses her mobile phone while sitting in traffic in Sacramento, Calif.

AP file photo

Circuit Court Judge Pamela Meyerson has given the green light to a lawsuit seeking to invalidate fines given to potentially thousands of motorists who were cited for distracted driving, Sneed has learned.

The lawsuit, filed last summer by Myron M. Cherry & Associates, claims Chicago illegally profited from tickets given to drivers using cellphones between January 2010 and at least 2015 by denying them their day in the proper court. After Meyerson’s oral ruling Thursday allowing the case to move forward, the firm plans to seek class-action status, although attorneys don’t know how many people were impacted.

RELATED: Suit claims distracted driving tickets illegal

“The proper court would have been the state traffic court,” said attorney Jacie Zolna, “because these types of offenses should have been reported to the secretary of state and they were not.”

He added: “Instead of following the law and sending the ticketed distracted driver 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.”

Responded Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city’s Corporation Counsel: “We are going to continually vigorously defend against this suit and beyond that don’t comment on any pending litigation.”

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. Some drivers got fines of up to $500, attorneys said.

Chicago cited untold thousands of drivers for distracted driving but sent them through its own adjudication system, Zolna said.

“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 explained.

RELATED: City’s defense in distracted driving lawsuit could backfire, attorney says

That wasn’t fair, the lawsuit charges.

“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 attorney Myron Cherry.

Why?

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.”