Chicago's red light camera program will be challenged before the Illinois Supreme Court Wednesday, in a rare on-the-road session in downstate Ottawa where tens of millions of dollars may be hanging in the balance.
At issue in the Chicago case is the legality of the red light ordinance first passed in 2003. Seven motorists challenged the law, contending it was enacted without authority of the General Assembly, which they argue did not come until three years later.
"Chicago never had any legal authority to institute its program," said attorney Patrick Keating, who represents the plaintiffs. "And then when the General Assembly acted they were in such a hurry to pass a state law that would apply, it only applies in municipalities in eight of the 102 counties."
Keating contends the enacting legislation is unconstitutional because it was not uniformly applied across the state. But it is his further contention that the Chicago law should be considered void, because it was put on the books before the General Assembly acted.
"The state law, even if it is valid, did not retroactively authorize Chicago's ordinance," he said.
The motorists have previously failed at the Circuit and Appellate levels. But the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, one of only 14 civil and 9 criminal cases slated for a hearing this term.
A city spokesman noted the previous rulings.
"The circuit court dismissed the complaint in its entirety, and the appellate court affirmed," said law department spokesman Shannon Breymaier. "We look forward to presenting our arguments support of that dismissal and affirmance before the Supreme Court."
"Our position is that every dollar that the city has collected is a dollar that it did not have the authority to collect," said Keating, who said he hopes to certify a class action of every motorist who has received a red light camera ticket in Chicago.
"We would ask that there be refunds for all Chicago tickets," he said.
The red light case is one of two the high court will hear in Ottawa, one of the first outside its usual chambers in Chicago or Springfield, as the renovation of the Court's Springfield home continues.