Truckers are seeking refunds after a state appellate court ruling that throws into question the city of Joliet’s authority to act as police, judge and jury in collecting fines for trucking violations.
A class action lawsuit labels the city’s practice “an illegal scheme” that “denies truckers their day in court.”
Instead, Joliet holds administrative hearings at city hall, where a city employee determines whether truckers are guilty and what fines they must pay.
“Because the fines due under these tickets are hefty, Joliet uses this scheme to generate millions of dollars for itself,” states the lawsuit filed Nov. 29 in Will County Circuit Court.
The lawsuit was filed just days before a Dec. 2 state appellate court ruling that reversed a Will County decision and found that Joliet did not have the authority to independently hold hearings on tickets that include overweight violations.
Joliet attorney Frank Andreano is handling both cases.
The city decides guilt or innocence, sets fines, and collects money on alleged violations of state traffic laws that otherwise would go to court Andreano said. If the cases went to court, Joliet would get a fraction of the fine based on state law, he said.
“What Joliet has done is they’ve bypassed going to court, bypassed what the General Assembly says everybody gets from a ticket,” Andreano said. “They issue you a fine and they get the money.”
City Attorney Sabrina Spano did not return a call for comment on Thursday.
But city officials have pointed to truck fines and in-house handling of cases as a new source of revenue.
Mayor Bob O’Dekirk has pointed to increased revenue from truck fines in his State of the City speeches.
Nn a presentation to the Joliet City Council in 2019, O’Dekirk noted increased revenue from truck fines as the city stepped up truck enforcement. O’Dekirk said the city collected nearly $1.5 million in truck fines in 2018 compared to $29,000 in 2014.
City Manager James Capparelli at a City Council meeting on Tuesday noted after the approval of the 2023 city budget that Joliet is looking for “innovative ways” to generate revenue and focusing on “a bigger collection of fees.”
The class-action lawsuit states that Joliet “fully and unilaterally controls” the system that determines guilt and penalties for truckers.
Hearings are held by an administrative law judge paid by the city, the lawsuit states. The tickets themselves are used as evidence of guilt. Police officers who issue the tickets are not required to attend the hearings.
“In short, Joliet takes a massive due process shortcut to impose significant fines on truckers,” the lawsuit states.
The class-action lawsuit points to Joliet’s location at the crossroads of Interstates 80 and 55 as “one of the most heavily-trafficked areas for commercial trucks in all of the U.S.”
The four initial plaintiffs in the case are truckers from Illinois, Missouri, California and Ontario, Canada.