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Sauby's lawyers say Fargo showed 'bad faith' over traffic fine decisions

The city of Fargo's failure to heed three court decisions striking down its illegal traffic fines showed a "willful disregard" for a driver's constitutional rights, lawyers argued in a brief filed Wednesday.

The city of Fargo's failure to heed three court decisions striking down its illegal traffic fines showed a "willful disregard" for a driver's constitutional rights, lawyers argued in a brief filed Wednesday.

Lawyers for Stephanie Sauby, a West Fargo woman who is challenging the constitutionality of Fargo's traffic fines, which exceeded those established by state law, hammered away at the city's failure to abandon the fines even after three state judges rejected those fines in individual cases from 2001 to 2007.

"The City's willful disregard for these three district court decisions demonstrates egregious conduct which 'shocks the conscience,' " lawyers argued in a brief filed on Sauby's behalf in U.S. District Court in Fargo.

The city's repeated indifference to the state court rulings, even in its legal arguments, demonstrate "a bad faith refusal to follow state law."

Fargo's higher fines were struck down in a fourth case last year, a decision made after Sauby filed her lawsuit.

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Sauby must persuade a federal judge that her constitutional rights were violated in order to sustain her legal challenge in federal court, which seeks to become a class-action lawsuit.

If granted, a class-action suit would open the door to claims from many drivers who also paid traffic fines in Fargo greater than those allowed by state law.

The city of Fargo argued unsuccessfully that it was allowed to charge higher traffic fines under its home-rule charter, a position it said was supported by two attorney general opinions.

The North Dakota Supreme Court rejected that argument earlier this year when asked to resolve the question by U.S. District Judge Rodney Webb, who is hearing Sauby's lawsuit.

In efforts to dismiss the case, the city has argued that the fact that its higher fines have been deemed illegal does not mean that Sauby's constitutional rights have been violated.

"Charging illegal fees in excess of those allowed by state statute constitutes a violation of a citizen's due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment," Sauby's brief said.

Sauby's lawyers also argue that the city violated her constitutional rights to "equal protection of the laws," also guaranteed under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

"The only distinction between the city and state law at issue here was the degree of punishment allowed. The City prohibited the same conduct as state law but exacted significantly higher penalties for the identical offense. The City had no legal authority to impose these greater fees."

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Sauby was cited for five traffic violations from 2003 to 2006, paying fines to the city of Fargo that totaled $242, or $160 more than the $92 maximum fines that would have been allowed under state law, according to court documents.

Immediately after the state Supreme Court ruling, Fargo and other North Dakota cities reduced their traffic ticket fines to the lower amounts set by state law.

Lawyers for the city of Fargo did not return a call inviting comment Wednesday on Sauby's brief.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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