HINGHAM (CBS) – A Hingham driver claims the speeding ticket he received from police is “illegal,” and he is now pursuing a class-action lawsuit to get a refund for himself, along with thousands of other drivers around the state.
On his 20th birthday, Nicholas Belezos was driving his car with a friend in September 2011. As he traveled along Gardner Street in Hingham, a police officer pulled him over for speeding.
Belezos received a citation for going 40 miles per hour on a road marked with a 30 mph speed limit sign. He paid the $100 fine. However, Belezos said the ticket also drove up his insurance premium and later cost him his job as a delivery truck driver when it appeared on his record.
And that is where a story about an everyday speeding ticket takes an unexpected turn.
Belezos told the I-Team he never should’ve received the speeding ticket in the first place.
“These signs are illegally-posted and it cost me my job,” he said. “At the time, I had no idea it would impact my life so significantly.”
Belezos argues the Town of Hingham, not him, broke the law by posting the 30 mph speed limit sign on Gardner Street.
To make his case, the 23-year-old has joined forces on a class-action lawsuit with attorney Fred Zotos.
“These are phony signs and bogus tickets. Nobody knows about it. The drivers don’t know and the courts don’t know,” Zotos said.
The attorney has admittedly been on a lengthy personal crusade after getting three speeding tickets of his own driving through Hingham.
Over the years, Zotos has tallied thousands of hours and has mounted a series of legal challenges in district, appellate and federal courts to argue against the illegally-posted signs and what he describes as a practice of “fraud on the court by using fabricated evidence.”
Simply put, Massachusetts law says that before placing speed limit signs on roadways, municipalities need to first conduct a traffic engineering study. After the study, a speed regulation is approved by local government officials, along with the Registry of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Transportation.
“If a speed limit is posted without this procedure, it is in violation… and is therefore considered illegal and unenforceable,” the law reads.
Emails and letters Zotos obtained during his litigation process indicate both town and state officials had no evidence a speed study ever occurred on Gardner Street in Hingham.
A MassDOT spokesman confirmed to the I-Team on Tuesday the agency could find no record of the required study.
In 2012, the I-Team found almost 900 people illegally ticketed on a state highway in Salem. Driver Chester Chalipowski successfully argued police gave him a ticket without a traffic study on the Bridge Street Bypass.
Since the roadway was the responsibility of the state, the MassDOT director admitted the tickets were illegal and he apologized to the hundreds of drivers who received citations and paid fines.
Zotos saw the 2012 report and said it set the wheels in motion for the class-action lawsuit. In Hingham alone, the attorney estimates there are at least 60 illegal signs posted around town.
“I determined there are probably thousands of people that have been getting illegal tickets, not only in Hingham but all across the state,” Zotos said.
Hingham’s town administrator declined an interview with the I-Team, citing the pending litigation. However, an attorney representing Hingham town leaders has filed an argument to have the case dismissed.
A Plymouth County Superior Court judge will hear that motion on Wednesday.
If Judge Robert Kane allows the case to keep moving, Belezos is hoping to eventually be awarded damages for his ticket fine, higher insurance premiums, and lost wages. If that happens, Zotos will ask the judge to certify class-action status for other drivers who also received tickets on roadways with illegal signs.
“It greatly impacts your life. It really does,” Belezos said of the 2011 speeding ticket. “I just don’t want to see this type of thing happen to other people and I’m sure it has.”