Chicago Woman Fights $105K in Parking Tickets

April 11, 2013
Jennifer Fitzgerald says her car was abandoned by her former boyfriend for three years in an employee parking lot at O'Hare International Airport.

Jennifer Fitzgerald has been fighting more than $100,000 in parking tickets on her junk car after she says it had been abandoned by her former boyfriend for three years in an employee parking lot at O'Hare International Airport.

A Cook County judge hearing her lawsuit against the city and her ex-boyfriend even wondered aloud Wednesday in court how all those tickets -- sometimes as many as four in a single day -- could have been stashed on the windshield.

"I don't even know where the room for all the tickets were. Where'd you put them all?"" Judge Thomas Allen asked rhetorically in his Daley Center courtroom.

The judge ended up dismissing the lawsuit after concluding that Fitzgerald's attorney hadn't done all he could do to first fight the tickets with the city's Administrative Hearings Department, but he gave Fitzgerald's attorney about another month to refile the lawsuit while urging all the parties in the meantime to try to reach a settlement.

Roderick Drew, a spokesman for the city's Law Department, said he believes the $105,000 in parking tickets and penalties racked up by Fitzgerald mark the most ever in city history against a single car owner.

Fitzgerald said her ex-boyfriend, Brandon Preveau, bought the 1999 Chevy Monte Carlo from a relative for $600, but she conceded the car's title was in her name. She said Preveau paid the car's liability insurance and drove the vehicle to work every day. When he lost his keys to the car, she said she gave him her spare set.

Fitzgerald's lawyer, Robin Omahana, complained in court Wednesday that the city should have taken other measures than hitting the car with hundreds of tickets -- like tow the Monte Carlo.

The judge said he sympathized with the "human elements" of the story.

"As I read the complaint, it tells a very not uncommon story of people getting caught up in the Department of Administrative Hearings," said Allen, himself a former Chicago alderman. "And then deadlines pass and then they come to court trying to turn back the hands of time.

"The other thing I see in the complaint is a ridiculous, robotic march to write tickets on a $600 junk car," he said.

But why, asked Preveau's attorney, Matt Prengaman, didn't Fitzgerald ever move the car herself during the time it sat in the O'Hare lot from November 2009 to October 2012?

"She's trying to pass the buck onto (Preveau) for her inaction," Prengaman said.

Fitzgerald later told reporters that she couldn't access the car because it was parked in an employee lot. Her ex-boyfriend worked for United Air Lines.

"I have no clearance," Fitzgerald said. "My father works security at O'Hare. He couldn't get in that lot. What am I supposed to do? I'm just an ordinary citizen. It was impossible for me to get it."

While the judge has implored all sides to reach a settlement, the city said it had previously offered to resolve the matter for just $4,460, including $2,000 for parking tickets and penalties Fitzgerald had incurred on a different vehicle. The rest of the payout would resolve the more than $100,000 in tickets that piled up at O'Hare.

Fitzgerald said she rejected the offer because Preveau refused to pay his share.

"I think it's just a big misunderstanding," Fitzgerald told reporters later. "I could not get into that lot to move the car. He had the car keys, he had everything."

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Copyright 2013 - Chicago Tribune

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