'It is a principle issue': Why a Tesla owner is fighting a $75 cellphone-use ticket

  • Tom Simonian of Geneva is asking a Kane County court to overturn the $75 ticket he received from North Aurora. Police say he held a cellphone while behind the wheel. Simonian says he just picked up the phone to push an icon to connect the phone, via Bluetooth, to his car's audio system.

      Tom Simonian of Geneva is asking a Kane County court to overturn the $75 ticket he received from North Aurora. Police say he held a cellphone while behind the wheel. Simonian says he just picked up the phone to push an icon to connect the phone, via Bluetooth, to his car's audio system. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Wanted posters spanning the decades are on display at the National Law Enforcement Museum. The museum opened in October near the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

    Wanted posters spanning the decades are on display at the National Law Enforcement Museum. The museum opened in October near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of the National Law Enforcement Museum

 
Updated 6/28/2019 8:24 AM

Why would a guy who can afford to drive an $80,000-plus Tesla Model X SUV bother fighting a $75 traffic ticket?

"Well, to me it is a principle issue. It has nothing to do with money," Tom Simonian of Geneva told us this week when we reached out to him about his ongoing legal fight with North Aurora.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Simonian is asking a Kane County judge to overturn a village hearing officer's decision finding him guilty of illegally using a cellphone while driving April 5.

A successful entrepreneur and former Geneva mayoral candidate, Simonian normally talks on his phone hands-free via Bluetooth while driving. When a call comes in, an "accept/ignore" message pops up on the dashboard screen, and he presses it to talk.

But on April 5, the Bluetooth failed to connect. When a call came in, Simonian said, he grabbed his phone off a dashboard mount, pressed an icon to connect, then put the phone back on the dashboard.

A North Aurora police officer spotted the phone in his hand and pulled him over. When Simonian explained he was talking via Bluetooth, the officer told him it didn't matter -- he had put the phone in his hand.

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"I was stunned by that," Simonian said.

Tom Simonian of Geneva talks on the phone using a Bluetooth connection in his Tesla SUV. He's going to court to fight a ticket he received in April for holding his phone while pushing a button to receive a call.
  Tom Simonian of Geneva talks on the phone using a Bluetooth connection in his Tesla SUV. He's going to court to fight a ticket he received in April for holding his phone while pushing a button to receive a call. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

So, the next day he looked up the state's distracted driving law and found an exception he thinks applies: A person is allowed to touch the phone to press a single button to begin or end a call.

He provided that to the hearing officer, an attorney hired by the village to decide ordinance-violation cases and some traffic violations, and he brought along a witness -- the person on the other end of the line April 5, who testified Simonian said, "Hold on, I'm going to connect the call."

He lost.

Civil rights?

Besides saying the village has its facts wrong, Simonian argues his constitutional right to due process was violated. Why? He says he didn't get to confront his accuser, the police officer who cited him.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Under the state's administrative adjudication hearing law, the officer was not required to attend proceedings before the North Aurora hearing officer. But in his case, Simonian told us, the hearing officer consulted with the officer outside the proceedings and before ruling. That should have been done in his presence, the Geneva businessman says.

"It's a principle thing. It's wrong. It is absolutely wrong," he said.

We asked North Aurora for its side.

"The village is aware of the judicial review that has been filed. We cannot, however, comment on an ongoing matter that will be tried in the court system," Police Chief David Fisher said.

Simonian and the village are set to face off in court 9 a.m. Sept. 27 in front of Kane County Judge Kevin Busch.

Court sides with Hastert

Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, shown here leaving the federal courthouse in Chicago win 2015, scored a legal victory this month when a state appeals court upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by one of his accusers.
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, shown here leaving the federal courthouse in Chicago win 2015, scored a legal victory this month when a state appeals court upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by one of his accusers. - AP Photo/Matt Marton File, 2015

Dennis Hastert hasn't had many wins of late, but a state appeals court handed him one last week when it upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by one of his accusers.

Filed in 2017, the lawsuit accuses the disgraced former U.S. House speaker of sexually assaulting a plaintiff known by the alias Richard Doe in the spring or summer of 1973 or 1974, when plaintiff was 9 or 10 years old. According to the suit, the boy was using a public bathroom in Yorkville when Hastert entered the stall he was using and raped him. Hastert later threatened the boy that his parents would go to jail if he told anyone what happened, the suit claims.

A Kendall County judge tossed the lawsuit in November 2017, ruling it was filed well after the state's statute of limitations had expired.

In a unanimous 16-page decision handed down June 21, the Elgin-based Second District Appellate Court of Illinois agreed, ruling the state gave Richard Doe two years to file suit after he turned 18. The suit was filed more than 30 years after that deadline.

"The legislature's purposes in enacting statutes of limitations are legitimate, and defendant has a vested right to invoke the applicable statute as a defense to plaintiff's claims," Justice Robert McLaren writes in the decision. "This is no less true where the tort alleged, as here, is particularly loathsome."

A similar statute of limitations -- it has since been lifted by state lawmakers -- barred prosecutors from filing criminal charges against Hastert in connection with the allegations of Richard Doe and another accuser. Instead, he was charged with banking violations as he withdrew thousands of dollars to pay what was supposed to be millions in hush money to a victim identified as Individual A. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Road trip

A police helicopter used to rescue survivors from a 1982 plane crash in the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. is among the exhibits at the new National Law Enforcement Museum.
A police helicopter used to rescue survivors from a 1982 plane crash in the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. is among the exhibits at the new National Law Enforcement Museum. - Courtesy of the National Law Enforcement Museum

It may not be for everyone, but here's a suggestion for cops and crime fans making last-minute plans for a quick summer trip: the new National Law Enforcement Museum in Washington, D.C.

Opened in October just a few blocks north of the National Mall, the museum features the police helicopter used to rescue survivors of a plane crash in the Potomac River; training and 911 emergency dispatch simulators; and artifacts such as "Untouchable" federal agent Eliot Ness' credentials, J. Edgar Hoover's desk and Al Capone's vest.

Besides documenting and educating the public about police history, the museum's mission is to be "a platform for constructive dialogue to help strengthen relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve."

A few weeks ago, for example, it hosted one of its "Witness" programs: "Stonewall Riots: 50 Years of Change for Law Enforcement and the LGBTQ Community." Videos of that talk, and others, can be seen on the museum's YouTube channel.

The desk of former FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover is among the artifacts on display at the National Law Enforcement Museum, which opened in October near the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The desk of former FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover is among the artifacts on display at the National Law Enforcement Museum, which opened in October near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. - Courtesy of the National Law Enforcement Museum

More information about the museum can be found at lawenforcementmuseum.org.

Can't make it to Washington? The Aurora Police Department displays its history in its lobby. Radios, badges, batons, shields and the like are behind a glass case. But what really catches the eye is the restored antique 1930s squad car behind velvet ropes.

Scam warning

Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart is warning of a phone scam in which the caller claims to be a member of his office and demands personal information and, in some cases, money related to a warrant.

A spoofing application is used to make it appear on the caller ID that the phone call is coming from the sheriff's office. However, the sheriff's office doesn't make such notifications by phone or ask for payment over the phone.

Dart says anyone who receive a suspicious call should hang up and call the sheriff's office to see if there's a legitimate reason they might be calling. And never give personal information, such as Social Security or bank account numbers, over the phone. Sheriff's police can be reached at (708) 865-4896.

• Got a tip or thoughts on a cops and crime-related issue to share? Email copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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