The Arkansas Supreme Court today denied a rehearing requested by the city of Little Rock in a lawsuit over an illegal charge added to traffic court fines.
This brings an end to a six-year saga that the plaintiff’s lawyer says the city knew was a loser.
It arose from a charge levied in Traffic Judge Vic Fleming’s court. A fine would be assessed for conviction. Defendants could pay on the installment plan with an additional $10 monthly charge. LaDonna Nelson sued in 2014, saying the charge had been added in violation of her due process rights on a speeding ticket her son received. She paid $145 in full, including the $30 charge for a three-month installment plan. She was among many who paid off early wh weren’t forgiven cumulative charges for a three-month payment plan.
The case has been through a couple of rounds of lawsuits, with the city resisting at every step. Today, the Supreme Court’s action means the city is responsible for covering illegal charges.
Timothy Steadman, Nelson’s lawyer, said the city must make $8,670 in refunds to 872 people in 90 days. This is on top of $225,000 to the lawyers who challenged the fee in the class action case and $10,000 to Nelson as the lead witness. The case was tried in Circuit Judge Chris Piazza’s court and the verdict there, plus attorney fees, were upheld by the Supreme Court.
Why the City felt that fighting this issue for almost 6 years, through a jury trial and appeal, is beyond me, particularly when the City’s internal analysis (obtained through an FOI) indicated that they were likely to lose, and it was entirely clear from the outset that they were assessing the installment fees incorrectly in the traffic division.
The other two Little Rock courts — criminal and environmental — assessed the time payment charge properly, monthly when there was still a balance due, according to this email from Carpenter to judges in 2014.