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Inside the courtroom as one motorist appeals a red-light ticket
By Marni Pyke | Daily Herald Staff

Kathy Krawczyk and Michael Hillyer took her red-light violation notice to court, which cost an extra $140 and a day at the Rolling Meadows Courthouse.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Making your case to a judge shouldn't cost you extra, said Michael Hillyer, who was at the Rolling Meadows courthouse to contest a violation.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

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Published: 7/12/2009 12:00 AM | Updated: 7/15/2009 10:16 AM

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For seven months, Michael Hillyer and Kathy Krawczyk resisted paying a ticket for turning right on a red light in Schaumburg.

It cost them $140 to appeal a hearing officer's decision to circuit court but the money was worth it, Krawczyk said, because she wasn't guilty.

In late June, the couple stood in front of Cook County Judge Sandra Tristano and heard the words they didn't want to hear.

"For me to reverse the decision, the tape would need to show your car coming to a stop," Tristano said, referring to the hearing officer's earlier ruling.

"In my view, the tape does not show that. The hearing officer is affirmed."

Hillyer was livid and Krawczyk fought back tears.

"This is so unfair," she said. "They did something with the camera. Why would I pay $140 if I was guilty?"

Hillyer added, "it's all about the money."

Ironically, Schaumburg officials subsequently decided to remove the cameras that snapped the shot of Krawczyk's car as she turned right on Meacham and Woodfield Roads the day after Thanksgiving. And on Tuesday, officials are expected to let their red-light camera contract expire altogether after the Meacham/Woodfield test site led to protests because so many tickets were issued there. The camera issued more than $1 million in ticket revenue over just three months.

Few people end up taking their failed appeals to circuit court. There's the additional cost to the $100 ticket plus the intimidation factor non-lawyers feel when trying to take on the system and the amount of time the process takes.

After getting the ticket in November, Krawczyk went through an appeal with a village-appointed hearing officer, then a court date this spring leading up to her appearance before the judge.

Tristano informed the couple that "this is not a new hearing. I am not the fact-finder."

Instead, the judge would make a decision based on the evidence produced by Schaumburg and on Kathy's explanation of what the hearing officer did wrong.

A little nervous, Krawczyk told the judge the hearing officer didn't give her enough time to talk.

"I know I'm not guilty. I did stop," she said. "When I came to the intersection I was talking to Michael about the new intersection with cameras."

Representing Schaumburg was Elmer Mannina, an attorney with three decades of experience.

He threw aside Krawczyk's contention that a glitch in the tape failed to show her stopping.

"Clearly, the vehicle comes and makes a turn. Clearly it shows no stop, no time wasted," he told Tristano.

All sides retreated to the judge's chambers to review the tape. When they came back, "I wouldn't go through this if I was guilty," Krawczyk said.

After Tristano's decision, Hillyer objected to the fact Krawczyk had to go through the hearing officer process, then pay to see a judge.

"This is 1984. This is Brave New World," he said. "It's all about taking your constitutional rights. You should be able to get in front of a judge without paying money.