DORAVILLE, Ga, — Some call it predatory and illegal. The City of Doraville says it’s just doing its job.
Four people are suing the city after receiving what they say are excessive fines and hope their federal lawsuit can make a difference nationwide.
One of the four, Hilda Brucker, said she was baffled when she got call from the City of Doraville in 2016.
“They told me I had to come to court right away,” Brucker said.
She told Channel 2's Rikki Klaus that she got dressed and went to City Hall.
Brucker learned that the city took issue with her crumbling driveway but she said the city had never issued her a warning.
She told Klaus on that day, a judge sentenced her to six months in jail but suspended the sentence and allowed her to spend that time on probation. The court also fined her $100.
“It felt like an assault on my dignity,” Brucker said. “I sat back down at my desk and I just thought, 'What the heck just happened?'”
Brucker said the court reversed her sentence, but she didn’t stop there. For a year, the Institute for Justice researched Doraville’s ticketing practices.
“And what we found is that in past years, the city has as much as over 25% of its budget paid for by fines and forfeitures,” Institute for Justice senior attorney Anthony Sanders told Klaus.
Sanders said Doraville is targeting people to fund city operations and salaries.
Brucker and three other metro Atlanta residents are now part of a federal lawsuit.
“The lawsuit itself says that it is unconstitutional to ticket people in order to pad the city’s budget,” Sanders told Klaus.
The city of Doraville asked a judge to dismiss the case, but the judge denied the motion this week.
Klaus emailed the city asking for an interview or statement. Doraville representative Douglas Carroll sent her a statement, saying:
"The City respects the judge’s decision, at this time, to decline to dismiss this lawsuit; however, we remain firm in our position that the lawsuit is unwarranted.
“The City is not motivated; nor do we, issue citations in order to bring revenue into our city. To the contrary our approach to property maintenance is to work with property owners to gain voluntary compliance. When compliance does not happen, we have no choice but to issue citations. Unfortunately, it is a mere fact that laws without enforcement are ineffective.
“Our responsibility is to serve the good of the public by having and enforcing laws that keep our neighborhoods in good condition and in the case of traffic our roads must be kept safe to travel. We will continue to defend our position for as long as the lawsuit continues."
The Institute for Justice told Klaus it’s taken seven similar cases to the Supreme Court and won five times, with an additional case pending.
Brucker hopes this lawsuit sets a precedent nationally.
Sanders said a hearing at Atlanta’s federal courthouse is set for June 4.
© 2020 Cox Media Group