The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

March 14, 2014

Lawsuit challenges Sibley County program

GAYLORD — A driver's education class that has provided thousands of dollars in revenue to Sibley County and helped hundreds of lead-footed drivers avoid getting a speeding ticket is the subject of a class-action lawsuit.

Sheriff Bruce Ponath said the program is a way to help minor traffic offenders by improving their driving skills.

Erick Kaardal, the Minneapolis attorney who filed the lawsuit, said what Sibley County and 11 other counties and cities are doing has been found to be illegal by the state auditor, attorney general and a judge in Wabasha County.

Kaardal names nine clients in the lawsuit, but he said he will likely be adding more as people find out about the lawsuit filed Thursday in Wabasha County. He is asking for a refund of the money paid for the classes along with damages for the cities and counties "unjustly enriching themselves." There are 35 defendants named, but only 12 are still offering the classes.

Sibley County is the only south-central Minnesota county or city named in the lawsuit, but Ponrath said the police departments in the cities in Sibley County also participate in the program. Deputies and police officers who stop someone for speeding issue a ticket with an attached brochure that explains the county's Driver's Awareness Class, he said.

It's then the offender's choice to either pay the ticket, which is about $130, or attend the class, which costs $75. The ticket is destroyed for people who attend the class, so they also avoid the possibility of increased insurance rates. People cited after an accident, for multiple violations, for major violations such as driving while intoxicated or careless driving, or who have already participated in two classes do not qualify.

During the six years Sibley County has been offering the classes, about 4,500 people have participated. One driver, who likely had enough speeding tickets to be facing a loss of license, traveled from Montana to take the class and avoiding getting another ticket on his record, Ponath said.

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