Some 1.2 million motorists have been sent notices from the city of Chicago offering an “additional opportunity” to contest red-light and speed-camera tickets that some of them paid as long as seven years ago.
What the notices don’t explain is that it’s actually the city that is trying to give itself the “additional opportunity” — to reinforce its claim to millions of dollars in fines and penalties that it is in danger of having to repay those vehicle owners.
The notices are part of a legal strategy by the Emanuel administration to lessen the potential impact of a pending class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of motorists ticketed under the red-light and speed-camera programs.
A Cook County judge has ruled the city denied due process to recipients of camera tickets, in part by failing to send them a second notice of their violations before assessing additional penalties. Lawyers for the plaintiffs contend the city could be forced to refund $200 million.
But there’s no mention of any of that in the “Dear Camera Violation Ticket Recipient” letter that went out under the names of city Comptroller Erin Keane and Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld. The notices cover more than 1.9 million tickets issued between 2010 and 2015.
The result is that even individuals who read newspapers and are at least somewhat aware of this issue have been confused by the city’s notice inviting them to challenge their old tickets through a written or in-person administrative hearing.
A city spokesman argued the letter is clear: offering vehicle owners a second chance to dispute their ticket. Sorry, I’m not buying it.
As one loyal newspaper reader who contacted me put it: “How am I supposed to remember the circumstance of a ticket I got in 2010 in order to protest it?”
In her case, she said the city only has video from one of two red-light tickets she received — and paid — in 2010, which the city confirms is a problem with some of the oldest tickets. She also questions whether the yellow light was too short on the incident for which there is a video, which the city says is not a permitted defense.
So what should she and others do? Contest their tickets or ignore the notice and await the outcome of the class-action case?
Jacie Zolna, a lawyer with Myron Cherry & Associates who brought the class-action case, said he’s probably received 100 calls or emails in the past two days from people asking those questions.
More recently, Zolna filed a second lawsuit against the city challenging the new notice procedure, which he calls the “biggest scam in the world.”
“They know all these prior debts are going to be invalidated. It’s not going to work,” Zolna said.
Zolna said the city is just trying to make a retroactive attempt to establish the motorists’ legal liability for fines and penalties.
But Zolna wouldn’t offer any legal advice on how individuals should respond to the city. He said he believes it’s “irrelevant” whether someone contests their ticket. That’s based on his expectation the city will be required to pay refunds or wipe out debts through the class-action case.
But the city’s notice warns: “If you do not respond by the response deadline, the liabilities listed on the notice will be deemed confirmed, and you will remain liable for any unpaid amounts.”
City Corporation Counsel Steve Patton has assured aldermen, who approved the new notice procedure, that it will pass legal muster. Patton also has argued the city’s procedural errors should not invalidate legitimate tickets.
I’m afraid the only real “additional opportunity” in the end will be for Chicago taxpayers to have another chance to pay up for the city’s mistakes.Tweets by @MarkBrownCST