Judge approves settlement in Fargo fines case

By Dave Kolpack

Associated Press Writer

FARGO, N.D. (AP) § Attorneys who negotiated a settlement in a class action lawsuit over Fargo traffic fines say the state's child support enforcement division is interested in finding the people who will be collecting money.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson on Monday approved the final agreement over traffic fines that were ruled illegal because they exceeded the amount allowed under state law. Court documents show nearly 14,000 people have filed valid claims for reimbursement, which could cost the city of Fargo more than $1 million.

Erickson issued a protective order after the hearing requiring child support officials to go through federal court to try and obtain the list of class members.

"I don't think they're entitled to that list unless they're willing to bear the cost," the judge said.

Heather Steffl, spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services, said officials hadn't seen the final agreement and couldn't comment.

Stephanie Sauby, of West Fargo, filed the original lawsuit in January 2007, and was joined last year by James Burns, of Fargo. Sauby was cited for five traffic violations between February 2003 and January 2006. Burns was fined three times for violations between January 2002 and December 2007.

The settlement approved by Erickson calls for Sauby to receive $10,000 and Burns $5,000 in additional damages.

Fargo city attorney Erik Johnson said the payments will come from a rainy day fund and should be sent out within three months.

One of the class members, Jim Boesen of Brandon, Minn., drove about 100 miles to attend Monday's hearing. He said he was impressed to see the group of lawyers representing the class.

"I'm like, wow, there's four of them," Boesen said. "I have no idea how much money I'm going to get, but hopefully it will help pay some bills."

One person filed an objection to the settlement. Starla TeKrony of Wheaton, Minn., one of the class members, said she doesn't think the city of Fargo should lose money to people, including herself, who broke the law.

"Anyone having the audacity to seek to utilize this situation for excessive financial gain should be reprimanded, not rewarded," TeKrony wrote. "Therefore I implore the courts, please do not reward this abusive and irresponsible behavior of these citizens and their legal counsel."

Erickson gave preliminary approval to a payment of $350,000 for the Vogel Law Firm, which represented Sauby and Burns, but the judge asked to see a detailed report of their work.

"I don't think the fee itself is unreasonable. I'm obligated to look at some itemization," Erickson said.

"I'm happy it's over," said Timothy Purdon, Sauby's attorney.

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