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Administrative Adjudication of Overweights – Part 1

Once upon a time there was a carpenter who built a house for a customer. When the work was completed, the customer gave him half of the wages earned a nd then he sold the house through Weiner Mobile Estates. Confused (and a little bent), the carpenter inquired as to the shortage. The customer said even though the carpenter did all the work, the State was entitled to half of the money. Ridiculous? Of course it is, but that is what happens with the fine money from every overweight citation adjudicated through the circuit court system. Regardless of how audacious you think the law is, it’s the law, and it cannot be circumvented by local administrative adjudication of overweight violations.

For the next few weeks, this blog will post a series of articles regarding the illegitimacy of administrative adjudication of overweight violations. It is a deep, dark rabbit trail of law, but it is not without purpose. Like any legal argument, there will be supporting and dissenting opinions, but the spirit and intent of the law is crystal clear.

Before an argument can be made against administrative adjudication of overweight citations, two things must occur. First, one has to first understand what administrative adjudication is. Secondly, one has to understand why a local government would want to administratively adjudicate overweight violations.

Administrative adjudication is an alternative venue to prosecute ordinance violations which became a lawful for municipalities in 1998. In 2010, the Illinois General Assembly authorized county governments the right to do the same, but divided the counties into two groups: Cook and the collar counties, and everyone else.

The purpose is two-fold: First, to clear unnecessary, non-criminal matters out of the circuit court. This would include offenses such as health code, building code and parking violations. Second, administrative adjudication allows the local government to keep fine revenues in-house.

Local units of government in Illinois are permitted to create ordinances, or local laws. Depending on the authority of such local government, whether it is home-rule or not, certain limitations are imposed as to how these ordinances are governed. Administrative adjudication was created to allow local government civil prosecution of ordinance violations instead of criminal prosecution.

Unlike in the circuit court where this a defendant and a judge who determines guilt or innocence, administrative adjudication has a respondent and a hearing officer who decides liability. There is a protection clause, however. In the event the respondent does not agree with the decision of the hearing officer, an appeal can be made and the case must be heard by a judge in the circuit court.

The movement to begin administratively (and unlawfully) adjudicating overweight violations at the local level ramped up in 2010. This was in response to the massive capital bill signed by Governor Quinn which doubled the overweight fines in a quid pro quo agreement to make all highways uniform in weight.

Essentially, what the General Assembly did was create an “unfunded mandate”. In the eyes of local government, those two words are synonymous to a four-letter curse word starting with the letter “f”, followed by “you”. Was Illinois long overdue to become the 50th state to adopt the uniform weight standards set by the federal government? Absolutely.

The problem is the State used the doubled half of the new overweight fines to fill their own coffers. Not a single penny was allocated to local government to repair their roads, even though the law mandated a higher weight limit.

The truth is nobody likes doubled fines. The trucking industry doesn’t want to pay it. The police officers do not like levying it. In a perfect world, administrative adjudication of overweight tickets would be ideal. Follow the line of thought in this next paragraph and play devil’s advocate.

Overweight truck enforcement is not going away. Therefore, overweight fines will continue to be assessed. Would it not be preferable to have the fine money stay in the local town you live or work to fix the problems in that local community? Would that not be better than watching fine money dispersed into a broken system of state government and used for purposes that do not benefit you at all?

Guess what though – it’s not a perfect world. Just because an idea might make greater sense or be philosophically correct, it does not justify abrogation of the law. Check back next week to begin understanding the systematic arguments as to why.

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