Suit filed over ESL speed cameras; two plaintiffs get tickets voided

News DemocratJune 11, 2014 

Four days after filing a lawsuit over tickets generated by speed cameras in East St. Louis, two motorists received notices saying their tickets had been forgiven.

Belleville attorney Eric Rhein filed a class-action lawsuit May 30 on behalf of motorists who have received tickets as a result of East St. Louis' speed cameras. The named representatives of the class of motorists are Paul Feder, Denise Durako, Latricia Sanders, Carol Crawford, Michael Orlet and Elizabeth Rund.

Just four days after filing the suit, Rhein received a letter from Blue Line Solutions, a Tennessee company that operates the speed-camera program for the city. The letter said the tickets issued to Feder and Durako were reduced to warnings.

The letter stated: "Please disregard the citation. No payment or further action will be required. Please let the citation serve as a warning to observe and adhere to the speed limits, which is in the interest of safety for yourself and others."

Feder and Durako are happy to put the tickets behind them, but regardless, the tickets were issued illegally, Rhein said.

"Either it's a valid and legal program or it's not. There's no middle legal ground here," Rhein said.

The other four individuals named in the lawsuit already paid their tickets. Rhein said he plans to continue seeking justice for them, and will seek to get their money returned.

The suit seeks to stop the city from operating its laser speed camera system now and in the future.

City attorney Michael Wagner could not be reached for comment. Last week, however, he said that the city had no plans of returning money to anyone who already paid, because paying the fine was an admission of guilt.

The city recently suspended the speed-camera program, after St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said violators didn't have to pay the tickets. Kelly said the program violated state law.

The lawsuit seeks to stop the city of East St. Louis from fining or financially penalizing citizens who own cars and who received speed-camera notices from East St. Louis, and to stop Blue Line from contacting collection agencies about trying to collect fines.

The suit also seeks to recover for the plaintiffs any fines and penalties received by Blue Line.

Rhein said the city of East St. Louis is still setting up court-type hearings for people who received speed-camera tickets. But the hearings would be before an ex-firefighter hired by the city -- not before a circuit court judge or a municipal court judge, according to Rhein.

"The tickets never hit the court system and there are no judges to hear their cases. People have the right to contest the violations in front of a judge," Rhein said.

The speed-camera tickets are sent to the owners of the cars.

"They assume guilt. You don't get to contest it when they say you are speeding. You have the right to plead not guilty in a normal case," Rhein said.

He was also upset over the amount of time the motorists were given to pay the fine -- 21 days..

"If you responded within 21 days, you get a hearing, but the officer does not have to show up for the hearing because you do not have subpoena power and there is no case set up. This violates basic due process. And, if you weren't driving, you have to rat out your spouse under East St. Louis' ordinance. We don't do that in the United States," Rhein said.

East St. Louis officials, Rhein said, don't seem to be concerned about people's rights.

"They want the money. They are not going to cut their own salaries," he said.

Rhein's suit asks that a judge declare East St. Louis' ordinance violates the Illinois Constitution, the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment the U.S. constitution.

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