Lake in the Hills firm files lawsuit over 'super scofflaw' list
A Lake in the Hills-based firm began garnering attention over the past year, but that was far from good news for its president as it was in association with the words “super scofflaw.”
That’s why John O’Hara, president of Specialty Contractors Inc., on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the Illinois Tollway.
O’Hara said the tollway included the firm’s name on its August 2013 “super scofflaw” list, a public document updated quarterly that lists toll violators owing $1,000 or more.
While there was at some point in 2013 a debt dispute between O’Hara and the tollway, that dispute was settled weeks before the list was made public, O’Hara said.
He said $100 owed in tolls turned into thousands over time. The matter was eventually taken to court and settled, he added.
“I settled with the tollway, wrote them a check … then they published their top scofflaws list and I was on it for the exact amount of the claim, which had been settled something like three weeks earlier,” he said.
A statement sent Thursday by the Illinois Tollway indicates it has not yet been served with the lawsuit.
It further states, “… Specialty Contractors Inc. eventually settled debt back in 2013 that the tollway had to sue them to collect, and their appearance on the tollway’s super scofflaw list was removed shortly after that.”
At first, O’Hara said he didn’t think too much about the list – but then unwanted recognition started surfacing.
“During the course of normal business I had a surprising amount of people tell me they saw me on the scofflaws list,” he said. “… The point was made clear to me, there are more people that are connecting this than I would’ve imagined.
“The negative impact is hard to measure, but certainly there is one because people [were] associating me with being a top scofflaw, which I wasn’t.”
The list on which O’Hara said Specialty Contractors showed up was the first to be published on the tollway’s website after the scofflaw list initiative was announced in August 2013.
The list was released after Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a bill allowing the tollway to publish names of toll violators owing $1,000 or more.
An Illinois Tollway news release at that time had Executive Director Kristi Lafleur stating, “If seeing your company’s name on this list becomes an incentive for you to pick up the phone and call us to settle your debt, then we’ve achieved our goal.”
The problem, O’Hara said, is that he did settle the debt.
“The Illinois Tollway uses the list to humiliate people,” he said. “It’s their club to try to get payment, and I paid but got called out anyway.”
The most current list published for the second quarter of 2014 does not include O’Hara’s place of business.
In comparison to the 2013 list, which included 157 businesses and a total of about $3.7 million in debt, the most recent list includes 249 “super scofflaws,” who owe about $6.8 million total.
The 2013 release indicates the Illinois Tollway had contacted the initially listed violators at least nine times to settle the debts. It also states 98 percent of tollway customers pay tolls on time.