A federal lawsuit says the Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency is unconstitutionally jailing motorists and punishing those who seek sworn depositions by refusing to grant them plea deals.
The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn on Thursday, said Suffolk Traffic and Parking Violations Agency executive director Paul Margiotta selects both the judicial hearing officers and the prosecutors, eliminating necessary checks and balances.
The suit also claims the court, established in 2013, has a "no plea bargain policy" for motorists who request a supporting deposition containing additional information about their cases. The policy deprives them of their rights through disparate treatment, according to the suit.
Suffolk County spokesman Justin Meyers said the county would not comment on pending litigation. The lawsuit names Margiotta, three judicial hearing officers and three traffic prosecutors as defendants.
Huntington attorney Christopher Cassar, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of four plaintiffs and is seeking class-action status, said the court's rules are arbitrary.
"I think they're operating to generate revenue for the county and as a result, they're trampling over constitutional rights and principle," Cassar said.
The plaintiffs are Jose Medrano of Huntington Station, Damian J. Brunswick and Tyler Gomes of Huntington, and Lawrence S. Youshah of Merrick. On April 23, hearing officer Paul Senzer sentenced Medrano to 15 days in jail for driving without a license, according to the lawsuit.
Medrano was not at the trial because another attorney he hired for the case thought they could appear at a later date, Cassar said in an interview.
Medrano said in an interview Monday that he was arrested at his house, where he lives with his 17-year-old son, on April 24. "He felt terrible," Cassar said of Medrano, who works as a mason. "When they took him, his son had no idea where his father disappeared to."
On May 1, State Supreme Court Justice Mark D. Cohen found that Medrano was detained unconstitutionally and directed his release from the Suffolk County jail. On May 20, Senzer ordered a new trial and issued a warrant for Medrano's arrest.
But on May 29, a state Supreme Court Justice stayed the execution of the bench warrant, Cassar said.
Senzer could not be reached for comment Monday.
The State Legislature in 2012 allowed Suffolk County to set up its own traffic court to handle noncriminal moving violations, parking tickets and red light camera citations.
The agency's budget last year predicted revenue of $48 million in fines and fees for 2015, with expenses of $11 million.