Chicago Settles Traffic Lawsuit – Still Work to be Done
The City of Chicago is set to pay nearly $39 million in a class-action lawsuit settlement accusing officials of ignoring their own rules for dealing with traffic tickets tied to its red-light camera system. The deal includes waiving $12 million in outstanding tickets and reimbursing drivers for tickets over the course of five years, but there’s still much work to be done.
The lawsuit could mean more than one million people who claimed the City did not allow drivers their due process by issuing additional warnings – part of its own law – could be in line for a payout. It also argued the City increased fines prematurely for overdue payments, many waiting to see what will be done to remedy this.
Just a couple of months after the lawsuit was filed in March 2015, the Emanuel administration changed the City ordinance to eliminate the requirement for a second notice. Then in September 2016, it issued notices to all those affected, giving them a right to request a hearing to contest any violations received without a second notice between 2010 and 2015. In doing so, they had done their due diligence and wiped the slate clean, according to attorneys for the City. Not everyone’s buying it.
“When they passed that law and did that sneaky move, it just emboldened me,” Attorney Jacie Zolna said Thursday while discussing the settlement. “I decided I wouldn’t let them try to do that.” Former City Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton said that in doing so, the change only “further bolsters our case” by bringing to light the fact that individuals were indeed wronged.
“We’re going to today, with our payment, right years of wrongs,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised after the City council meeting approving the settlement terms. Emanuel said he accepted responsibility for mistakes made with the camera system during his tenure. However, there were problems long before. Earlier this year traffic camera light vendor Redflex agreed to pay the City $20 million to settle a lawsuit linked to a bribery scheme between the firm’s former chief executive and a City transportation official.
Truth be told, a large portion of the funds will be issued to attorneys, which many also take issue with. “Attorneys are getting $11.7 million of this that is flawed that money should be reimbursed to the people, not the lawyers,” said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th Ward). In fact, if all motorists who received tickets during the five-year span are given the refunds they deserve, they will each receive only $7. “The moral thing for the City to do is to draft a resolution ending red light/speed cameras,” said Mark Wallace, of the Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras.
Zolna initially brought about the lawsuit and states drivers will receive mailed notices with an explanation of how to receive their payment. Chicago will use $10 million of the Redflex payment as part of the City’s settlement. The City intends to stop selling bonds to cover additional expenses beginning in 2019. It currently has no plans to do away with the system it’s been utilizing for the past fourteen years.