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Toll authority often willing to settle
By Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff

Leslie Boudreau, in her car outside the tollway's Downers Grove headquarters, faced a $15,000-plus bill after racking up a year of missed tolls and fines because her I-PASS account had run dry and the tollway did not send her violation notices.

 

Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

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Published: 1/6/2008 12:46 AM

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In her fight against the tollway, Leslie Boudreau stumbled on what many might consider a loophole.

Just days after Boudreau appealed her $4,619 bill for toll violations to the DuPage County circuit court, a tollway attorney called her at home -- twice -- and asked to settle for a $500 fine and the $179.50 in tolls.

Facing an impending escalation of fines to $15,739 and the loss of her driver's license, Boudreau, who uses the tollways to get from her Oak Forest home to work as a psychiatric nurse in Naperville, quickly agreed to the deal.

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The tollway authority's sudden willingness to deal with Boudreau is not unusual for cases that are appealed to court, said spokeswoman Joelle McGinnis.

In fact, she said, such deals can be struck with tollway attorneys before an appeal is filed, even though accused toll scofflaws aren't told that option exists.

The tollway could not produce figures on how many accused toll cheats appeal to circuit court or how many settlements are reached. McGinnis, though, said it is relatively rare.

For one thing, that route costs $247 for a nonrefundable court fee, on top of anything else owed. So few accused toll cheats are likely to pay that unless they know a settlement is nearly certain.

Appealed violations often are settled for pennies on the dollar because judges urge settlement to save expensive court time, McGinnis said.

"I don't think it is a loophole," she said. "The people are still paying."

The tollway authority's attorneys use a preset formula that allows scofflaws to pay a percentage of the fines, the full amount of the missed tolls and $40 to fill up their I-PASS, she said.

That is precisely what occurred in Boudreau's case.

The tollway authority's hearing officer refused to budge on her litany of fines even though Boudreau had owned an I-PASS for years and said she wasn't aware her account had run dry.

The fact that the tollway hadn't sent out notices for a year was irrelevant. It was assumed Boudreau was knowingly cheating, the hearing officer said.

Yet, that attitude changed when the tollway was no longer in control.

Just days after Boudreau appealed the fines to circuit court, a tollway attorney was calling her home.

"He said that since I was an I-PASS holder, they wanted to negotiate," Boudreau said. "I was stunned. That was my whole point in the first place. It is crazy."

McGinnis said tollway authority attorneys, who are technically assistant attorneys general, are given the authority to settle with accused toll cheats before an appeal.

However, the toll violator must ask to talk to a tollway authority attorney to settle.

Tollway employees who normally take questions about violations and hearing officers are not allowed to consider a deal, McGinnis said.