Fighting parking tickets just got harder and much more costly for thousands of Illinois drivers who register their cars under a corporation’s name, thanks to a recent decision handed down by the Illinois appellate court.
Ironically, the case at the center of the decision, Stone Street Partners LLC v. City of Chicago Department of Administrative Hearings, has nothing to do with parking tickets, but everything to do with some drivers’ ability to fight them.
Last March, the First District Appellate Court heard the Stone Street case, which centered on building code violations, and ruled corporations cannot represent themselves at any administrative hearings in the city of Chicago. Only lawyers can. That’s the same venue – the only venue – where parking tickets can be contested. This unintended side effect of the ruling means some drivers will have to hire an attorney to represent them in every matter, even contesting parking tickets.
It’s an effect that hit home for Chicago photographer Laurie Rubin. Like many, Rubin, who is self-employed, registered her car under her corporation’s name for tax purposes. When Rubin says she was unfairly ticketed in January and tried to fight it, she was stunned to learn she couldn’t.
“I got a letter from the city informing me for the first time – I had never heard this before – that I cannot contest a ticket because my car is registered in the name of a corporation,” Rubin recalled.
Rubin said fighting her $75 parking ticket suddenly skyrocketed into hundreds of dollars, once she factored in the cost of an attorney.
“I can’t ever contest a parking ticket without hiring a lawyer, which seems ridiculous,” Rubin said.
NBC 5 Investigates heard the same story from David Latko last spring. He hit the same brick wall when he tried to fight a ticket issued to a car titled in his business’ name.
"It makes your blood boil,” Latko said. "They came back and said I can't even defend myself against the tickets anymore."
It’s a fight he and potentially tens of thousands of other Illinois drivers can’t begin to mount, even if they can prove the ticket was written in error.
Kent law professor Harold Krent said the decision unfairly burdens small business owners, and should be re-evaluated.
"The problem is when the rule is applied to a very small corporation -- particularly if the corporation is one person -- the rule doesn't make any sense," Krent explained. “I think that if it's asked, the court itself would carve out an exception for the simple category of traffic tickets. It doesn't make sense if the corporation is an individual. The individual should be able to represent him or herself just like they can in any other case."
For now, the ruling stands, putting drivers in a corner: unfairly ticketed but financially unable to fight back
"So what am I going to do?” Lakto said. “Pay $300 for a lawyer to write a letter to me to defend against a $100 or $150 ticket?
"So if I lose, I'm out $450.”
NBC 5 Investigates reached out to the city’s law department for answers. While sympathetic to Rubin’s predicament, the city said it is bound to follow the appellate court ruling. The city said it has asked the Illinois Supreme Court to reverse the decision. But as of now, it has no flexibility to allow non-attorneys to appear at a hearing on behalf of a corporation, regardless of the dollar amount involved.