Chicago’s Red Light Cameras In Supreme Court Spotlight

A Xerox contractor installs a new red light camera at the corner of Clark Street and Irving Park Road.

A Xerox contractor installs a new red light camera at the corner of Clark Street and Irving Park Road.

If you think Mayor Rahm Emanuel has major fiscal headaches now, things could get a while lot worse for the Chicago’s black hole of a budget deficit if attorney Patrick Keating and his team gets its way.

Keating is the lead attorney on a class action lawsuit challenging the validity of Chicago’s behemoth of a red light camera enforcement program–a case which the Illinois Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday.

The lawsuit has been working its way up the legal food chain the past few years will get its proverbial day in court at the historical Ottawa Courthouse starting at 11 AM.

Depending on how they rule, the Supreme Court could open up Chicago to the possibility of having to refund tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars in red light camera fines collected over the years.

Chicago has bragging rights to having the nation’s and perhaps the world’s largest red light camera enforcement program. At its peak it had 384 cameras at 191 intersections and has generated over half a billion in revenue for the city over the past 11 years since it’s inception in 2003.

But Keating’s suit contends there are major legal flaws with Chicago’s red light camera enforcement–legal issues at odds with the Illinois constitution.

His red light camera odyssey began four years ago when after a bright flash, Keating’s wife Elizabeth received a $100 red light camera ticket in the mail.

Something didn’t smell right to his legally trained nose. So Keating began researching and researching.

“I couldn’t believe this was right so I began looking into it,” explains Keating. “And it was like an onion, the more I peeled away the more I found.”

Keating filed the class action suit in 2010 in Cook County Circuit Court, amended his filing in early 2011, but it got dismissed. This ruling was upheld by the Appellate Court in 2013and then lost on appeal in the Appellate Court in 2013.

What Keating found, and what the lawsuit contends is that when Chicago first instituted its red light camera program in 2003 there was no law on the books at the state level that enabled municipalities to use this type of enforcement. Before Mayor Rahm Emanuel began Chicago’s speed camera program, he made sure Sprinfield passed a state law first.

Keating believes the city realized it’s mistake in 2005 when it began pushing Chicago-friendly legislators to introduce bills in the Illinois General Assembly which would retrofit red light cameras into the Illinois compiled statues and hopefully give the city cover against guys like him.

The city’s Law Department, of course has a contrary view and says this lawsuit has no merit.

The city points to what’s called home-rule authority and didn’t need a state law to issue red light tickets according to spokesperson Shannon Braymaier. Home-rule gives larger municipalities of a certain population the ability to pass legislation particular to a its specific locale to meet local needs without the state’s blessing.

But Keating doesn’t believe home-rule applies to an issue that should be covered under the Illinois vehicle code which requires that traffic laws must be uniform across the state.

This concept of uniformity of traffic law is the reason that all stop signs are red, motorists drive on the right side of the roadway and that every vehicle must conform to the same set of rules when being operated. This uniformity allows for motorists to know how to behave when driving on roads in every town and county in the state and is instructive how enforcement is fairly applied to all motorists no matter where they may be driving.

Ultimately in 2006, a bill got passed which legally allowed for Chicago and other municipalities in select counties to use this type of automated photo enforcement. It was only after this law was passed in 2006 that red light camera enforcement expanded in the handful of counties allowed use this type of automated camera enforcement.

But according to Keating, the new law didn’t solve Chicago’s problem.

First off, he says the city never reenacted it’s current RLC laws to be consistent with the state law. He thinks Chicago can’t change the law because by doing so it would admit the original ordinance from 2003 was not legal.

Braymaier says the ordinance is valid without reenactment.

“There is no legal requirement for a home-rule unit like the City to reenact an ordinance after state authorization by an enabling act,” Braymaier explains. “Moreover, the City amended the ordinance several times after the statute was enacted, which effectively reenacted the ordinance.”

Keating also believes that the law smacks of political gerrymandering as Illinois State Senate leader John Cullerton was only able to get it passed by creatively tinkering with the bill.

When the first bill was introduced, it would have allowed any municipality in the state to use this type of enforcement. But downstate politicians and Republicans weren’t interested or even hostile to the idea of red light camera enforcement. The first bill was defeated by just a few votes in the state Senate.

Only after severely restricting the number of counties which could use red light cameras could the bill get passed out of the Senate by a single vote in 2006. It subsequently became law.

It is the laws restriction to only municipalities located within eight of the state’s 102 counties that Keating thinks is at odds with the Illinois State Constitution. He says the state constitution requires state laws must apply to everyone within the state–not just select persons or locales.

So what are the odds Keating’s lawsuit will succeed?

Keating points to Minnesota.

Similar to Chicago, back in 2005 Minneapolis started a red light camera enforcement program without the state of Minnesota enacting a law allowing for it.

Less than two years later the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Minneapolis’ program was unconstitutional and it was ordered to refund nearly $3 million in fines to aggrieved motorists.

While Keating says if the Supreme Court rules against the city, it could strike down portions or all of Chicago’s or state’s red light camera laws. However the most likely outcome if the court rules for the plaintiffs is allowing this class action lawsuit proceed at the Circuit Court level.

Will the city be on the hook to payback a few hundred million bucks to drivers? Only the Illinois Supreme Court knows.

Oral arguments in Keating v. City of Chicago will begin at 11 AM Wednesday at the Ottawa Courthouse.

Live audio streaming is available here.

14 Responses to Chicago’s Red Light Cameras In Supreme Court Spotlight

  1. Jeff says:

    I used to work at the same law firm as Patrick Keating. He is a bright guy, so I’m glad he is leading the charge here.

    The home rule issue has potentially far reaching implications. For example, last year Chicago opposed the State Fire Marshall’s move to require all Chicago high rises to be retrofitted for sprinklers. Chicago’s main argument was that this was an issue where home rule allowed Chicago to implement its own life safety program for high rises, in lieu of a sprinkler mandate. If the Supreme Court decides to issue an opinion that scales back the scope of Chicago’s home rule authority, the City might have a hard time raising this same argument again on the sprinkler issue (and on other issues as well, where state law is at odds with Chicago’s municipal code).

  2. […] Class-Action Lawsuit Targets Chicago’s Red Light Cam Program (Expired Meter) […]

  3. Pete says:

    Chicago’s interpretation of home rule has always been that it allows Chicago to do whatever the hell it wants without state oversight. It would be interesting to see if a court ever narrows this down.

  4. Paul smith says:

    Speaking of Racial profiling…….

    Would red light cameras and speed cameras violations be justification to file a federal suit against , a state agency , or police officer who stops a motorist for running a red light , or speeding ? ..

    Under the civil rights act of 1871 (42 U.S.C.A. Section 1983), color of law is synonymous with State Action, which is conduct by an officer that bears a sufficiently close nexus to a state so that the action is treated as though it is by the state.

    After all these drivers who are ticketed by traffic cameras are being treated different, they are not subject to,” Probable Cause” ,they are only ticketed for minor non moving violations. no DWI, no points , no loss of license and no threats of jail time.

    These drivers are not asked to get out of their cars to be search for drugs ,or weapons on their person ,or their personal property .

    Where is the excuse to use”Probable Cause”after being stopped for red light and speeding traffic violations, if a majority of the cities traffic violations are done by traffic enforcement cameras ?…

  5. Paul smith says:

    Under the The U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Missouri v. McNeely. – An officer can use ‘ Probable Cause’ to apply for a search warrant for drunk driving if a judge has all the facts to issue the warrant.
    but……?……,
    How can states ,or cities, now argue that traffic roadblocks are reasonable use of ‘ Probable Cause’ for searches and seizures if a majority of the cities traffic violations are done by traffic cameras ?…
    Red Light Cameras and Speed Cameras defeats the argument that Chief Justice Rehnquist gave for allowing the justification of a state reasons to violate the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution in allowing traffic roadblocks ..

    Would Chief Justice Rehnquist have the same opinion today, if he would have known that states and cities with red light cameras and speed cameras have on their own admission stated it’s unnecessary to stop motorists for traffic violations and that the Federal and State Point System is unnecessary.

    How can states ,or cities now argue that traffic roadblocks are reasonable use for searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, if a majority of the states major cities traffic violations are done by traffic enforcement cameras ?

  6. Paul smith says:

    What’s the difference between an ethical man and a moral man

    A ethical man knows what doing is wrong ,but does it anyway,, ..A moral man sees what the ethical man is doing and tries to understand if the ethical man is right …

  7. Paul smith says:

    The” main argument for a State’s Point System “to limit the power of a municipality traffic court systems.. The Federal government also got in to the Act by not only limited the power of a municipality traffic court system , but also required states to centralize and unify how points and a moving violations were accessed for a Commercial Drivers License (C.D.L).

    We now have a system in place that doesn’t even follow the State of Missouri laws on moving violations..

    Will the State of Missouri outlaw Red Light Cameras and Speed Traffic Cameras?

    Why does the State even have a Point System in place if the traffic court system allows a moving violation pleaded down to a non moving violation?

    If the Point System is not about taking unsafe drivers off the road , what’s the point?

    And “Traffic Fix it Centers “are just a legalize term for a kangaroo court system with a new coat of paint. Their slogan

    If you’ve the money , you won’t do the time.

  8. Paul smith says:

    On things I dislike , the statement that driving is a privilege,for i believe in the fundamental right of man evolution in transportation ,but i do understand that along with these basic driving ”Rights comes regulations and responsibilities..

  9. Paul smith says:

    One is led to believe that state and federal politicians have found a better friend in the traffic enforcement cameras industry than the auto insurance companies , when it comes to campaign finance funds , or maybe it’s just a helping hand in finding a consultant job..

    Why else would the Federal and state government seek ways to a weaking of the Point System instead of finding ways to improve enforcement of the law..

  10. Jeff says:

    Pete:

    Under the Illinois constitution, any municipality which has a population of more than 25,000 is a home rule unit. Accordingly, if the Illinois Supreme Court makes a significant ruling on the scope of home rule, that ruling will have an impact beyond Chicago itself. There are (I believe) some 87 units of local government that have home rules status in Illinois.

  11. B says:

    Calling driving a privilege is just another scam by government. Convince people of a lie and they gain power. The reality is that it became effectively that way through a slow creeping process that would have never started if the automobile weren’t a new technology and like most new technologies first adopted by “the rich”.

  12. […] the red light camera law is repealed in light of the study’s results, traffic citations in Tampa and around the state […]

  13. […] Chicago’s Red Light Cameras In Supreme Court Spotlight … Keating is the lead attorney on a class action lawsuit challenging the validity of Chicago’s behemoth of a red light camera enforcement program–a case which. … Would red light cameras and speed cameras violations be justification to file a federal suit against , a state agency , or police officer who stops a motorist for running a red light , or speeding ? .. Under the civil rights act of 1871 (42 U.S.C.A. Section 1983), color of law is synonymous with State Action, which is … […]

  14. […] ruling that challenged cameras in New Orleans. The Illinois Supreme Court heard oral arguments against such cameras in Chicago in May 2014. A decision in a similar case currently before the Ohio Supreme […]

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