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Downers Grove Agrees to Preliminary $73K Settlement in Suit Challenging $30 Jail Fee

Nearly 1,000 people arrested between May 18, 2009, and May 18, 2011, are eligible to receive $15 as part of a class action settlement with the village,

The Village of Downers Grove has reached a preliminary agreement to pay nearly $73,000 to settle a federal class action lawsuit that alleged its $30 police booking fee was unconstitutional.

Under the settlement agreement—approved Sept. 11 in U.S. District Court—980 individuals arrested between May 18, 2009, and May 18, 2011, are eligible to receive a 50-percent refund of the village's $30 jail intake fee, according to Downers Grove Communications Director Doug Kozlowski.

The lawsuit was filed against the village on May 18, 2011, by Robert Bailiff, a Downers Grove resident who was arrested on May 31, 2009, on domestic battery charges. According to court documents, Bailiff was released after the arresting officer took $30 from his wallet to cover the fee imposed by Downers Grove police on individuals who post bond after an arrest.

Bailiff's case was dismissed on Jan. 3, 2011. With no provision for reimbursement, he opted to sue.

The suit alleged that the fee was a violation of due process guaranteed under the 14th Amendment because it failed to give arrestees "proper notice or an opportunity to be heard," according to court documents.

On Dec. 16, 2011, Judge Sheila Finnegan of the U.S. District Court in Chicago ordered that the case become a class action lawsuit.

The attorney representing the class, Vincent DiTommaso, said the preliminary settlement agreement was reached earlier this month after "a long negotiation" with the village.

"The settlement speaks for itself. There are benefits available for every person who paid a booking fee between the designated dates," DiTommaso said.

As part of the agreement, the village will contribute $14,730 to a settlement fund, which is enough to cover all 980 individuals eligible for the $15 reimbursement. Village officials also agreed to to cover attorney's fees of $55,000 for the plaintiff, as well as expenses up to $1,500. The village will pay $2,500 to Bailiff, the class representative, according to the settlement notice.

In addition to the settlement, the suit cost the village approximately $20,000 in legal fees, bringing the total cost to about $94,000, Kozlowski said.

The settlement is subject to final court approval, DiTommaso said.

Despite the agreement, the village still "expressly denies the claims asserted in the litigation, and denies all allegations of wrongdoing and liability," according to the settlement notice posted on the village website Tuesday.

"The court has not decided that the plaintiff or the defendant should win this case. Instead, both sides agreed to a settlement. That way, they avoid the cost of a trial and the people in the class will get compensation," the notice states.

Kozlowski declined any further comment on behalf of the village, but confirmed that the village has not charged a booking fee since the lawsuit was filed in May 2011.

The $30 fee was adopted by the village council on June 7, 2005, as a way to offset administrative processing costs, according to village documents. Since then, the fee has generated approximately $179,000 in revenue.

Downers Grove isn't the only Chicago suburb to be sued over its jail intake fees.

In July 2012, the Naperville Sun reported that the City of Naperville was granted "preliminary approval" of a federal class action settlement over its $50 booking fee. The city was sued by resident Michael G. Roehl in October 2011, after he was acquitted of a drunken-driving charge and denied a refund of the jail fee.

Under the proposed agreement between Naperville and the class, anyone who is found not guilty of a crime during the designated time period is eligible to receive a refund of up to $50. If a case is dismissed in its entirety, up to $25 could be granted, while those who were found guilty could receive up to $10.

Anyone who paid a jail intake/booking fee to Downers Grove between May 18, 2009, and May 18, 2011, has until Nov. 6 to file a claim. The form is available for download at www.downers.us.

The final hearing to determine whether the settlement is "fair, reasonable and adequate, and whether it should be approved by the court," is scheduled for Dec. 13, according to court documents.

Once the settlement receives final approval, checks will be mailed to all members of the class, DiTommaso said.

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Kent Frederick September 26, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Between the class representative and eligible class members, they get a little over $17,000, and the attorneys get $55,000! That is wholly unreasonable. Even in tort litigation, the attorney for the plaintiff gets 1/3rd of the settlement or jury award plus expenses. Using the typical split, the plaintiff's attorney should get about $8600 plus fees. I'd love to see his time records and normal billing rates.
William Vollrath September 26, 2012 at 02:20 PM
I assume this clearly questionable fee was approved by the same legal minds who claimed the LOWV candidates forum was not an appropriate event to be held in a DG municipal facility...
John Schofield September 28, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Thanks to reference from the Village Clerk, here are the minutes of the Downers Grove Village Council meeting at which this was discussed => http://www.downers.us/public/docs/agendas/2005/june-07-2005/workshopmin524.pdf Three attorneys there included Commission (now Senator) Sandack, Commissioner Tully (now Mayor), and Attorney Petrarca.
Dan F. October 01, 2012 at 03:29 PM
That's an outrage that cost the Village Council the ability to waste that money hiring another consultant for some other useless reason!
Dan F. October 02, 2012 at 05:35 PM
$94,000 cost to taxpayers: "Reimbursing those who paid the booking fee could cost the village close to $15,000. The village's legal fees ran more than $20,000, village spokesman Doug Kozlowski said. That puts the total cost to the village at about $94,000."

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