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City officials discuss traffic fine case

Fargo city attorneys met with city commissioners Monday to map out strategy for a settlement hearing in a potential class-action lawsuit tied to Fargo's traffic fines.

Fargo city attorneys met with city commissioners Monday to map out strategy for a settlement hearing in a potential class-action lawsuit tied to Fargo's traffic fines.

City Attorney Erik Johnson said after the commission's 90-minute executive session that he could not comment on the class-action complaint, which could cost the city roughly $5 million if it is allowed to move forward and the city loses a trial.

State and federal courts have ruled the city's fines were higher than state law allowed for several years.

Johnson said next Monday's hearing with District Judge Karen Klein will be a chance for both sides to settle some or all of the issues in the case.

"If we can't resolve this by agreement, it goes to trial," he said.

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West Fargo resident Stephanie Sauby has already won several rounds in the case. State courts have ruled that Fargo's traffic fines between Aug. 30, 2001, and March 24, 2008, were higher than allowed by the state's Century Code.

U.S. District Judge Rodney Webb ruled in August that Fargo's fines were unconstitutional and violated Sauby's due process and equal protection rights. But he also said Sauby had not proven that the fines were excessive.

Recently, Fargo resident James Burns, who received three traffic citations, joined Sauby as a plaintiff.

In an Oct. 27 U.S. District Court filing, Sauby and Burns ask that the case become a class action, which could give thousands of drivers the opportunity to recoup some of what they paid in traffic fines. They want a jury trial.

The city's reply, dated Nov. 10. 2008, asks that the class-action complaint be dismissed, and that the city be reimbursed its costs.

Sauby received five traffic tickets in Fargo from Feb. 21, 2003, to Jan. 24, 2006, that exceeded fines set by state law. She paid $242, rather than the $92 she would have paid if the fines had been levied under the state's fine schedule.

Burns was added as a plaintiff in October. His three tickets, Jan. 11, 2002, to Dec. 24, 2007, added up to $245. Under state guidelines, he would have paid $60.

An Oct. 7 order by Klein says both parties must submit their settlement statements to her five court days before the hearing. While not part of the case file, Kline can use the statements to prepare for and conduct the conference, court records show.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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