WOODSTOCK – A lawsuit that was dismissed in federal court last year has been refiled in McHenry County. The suit alleges that fines collected by the county's 22nd Judicial Circuit are unconstitutional and defendants have been been improperly charged millions of dollars.
The suit, filed Feb. 4 against McHenry County Clerk Kathy Keefe, Treasurer Glenda Miller and the county, seeks class action status as well as refunds for two defendants: Thomas Venezio and Anthony Masoni.
The suit claims the costs imposed by the circuit clerk's office are added fines, which violates defendants' constitutional right to due process and governments' constitutional prohibition against ex post facto addition of penalties.
In Masoni's case, for instance, a judge fined him $1,750 for a DUI, but fees added an additional $2,000, resulting in totals exceeding the $2,500 maximum fine allowed by statute for that type of offense, the lawsuit states.
“Our position is they have done it wrong for years,” said Ray Flavin, one of the plaintiff's attorneys. “Those fines they have collected are void and as a result they should return them.”
Flavin said the Illinois Supreme Court clarified the difference between fines, which are punishments handed out by a judge, and fees, which are used to recoup expenses. He contends that other courts, such as Kane County's, have adjusted and now take fees out of the fine imposed by the judge, instead of adding them on top of the fine as McHenry County does.
He estimated that the costs add up to more than $25 million.
McHenry County's process has changed slightly since the federal lawsuit was filed. Before, defendants would learn of the additional court costs when they went to pay their fine at the circuit clerk window. McHenry County has since began rolling out electronic sentencing orders that are signed by a judge and handed to defendants before they leave the courtroom.
Keefe deferred comment on the lawsuit to the state's attorney's office, although she did say she believed the changes implemented were enough to satisfy the complaint in the lawsuit.
“I believe he got one of the electronic sentencing orders, which we feel addresses the issues we raised that the judge is not ordering the fines and fees,” Keefe said.
Miller also deferred comment to the state's attorney's office. A representative was not immediately available for comment.