By Mark E. Vogler
---- — LAWRENCE — Federal District Court Judge Nathaniel Gorton wants more information on the city’s taxicab ordinance before deciding whether to overturn a controversial ban on out-of-town cabbies picking up fares in the city.
But attorney Peter J. Caruso, who seeks an injunction that would keep the city from enforcing the ordinance, said he got the impression from yesterday’s hearing in U.S. District Court in Boston that the judge has concerns about the constitutionality of the law.
“It was clear the judge just did not believe the city could prevent taxis from bringing fares into the city, or that if a passenger calls an out of town taxi the city could prevent this, or even enforce it,” Caruso said yesterday.
“Therefore, the police rash of towings and fines of 21 taxis these several weeks is now in question, as well as the amendments themselves,” he said.
Caruso represents the Andover Central Transportation Corp. and five of its drivers, who have alleged that the city wants to drive away the out-of-town cabbies in an effort to protect the business interests of three companies that hold 123 of the city’s 150 medallions.
William DiAdamo, the attorney who represented the city at yesterday’s hearing, said in an interview last night that he disagrees the judge has made up on his mind on whether the taxicab ordinance is flawed.
“I don’t comment on what I think judges are going to do. It’s inappropriate and foolish,” DiAdamo said.
“We had a hearing, the judge indicated he wanted additional information, and we are going to provide it to him. I am supposed to provide additional information by May 30 and the plaintiffs have until June 6 to respond. And the judge will make a decision after that,” he said.
“Asking questions is a good responsible thing for the judge to do. But the questions that a judge asks at a hearing do not indicate what a judge is going to do,” he said.
Caruso, who also represents The Eagle-Tribune, got a different impression from the hearing.
“Citing other cities, and reading from one ordinance in Massachusetts, Judge Gorton questioned why the city would not allow a resident to call an out of city taxicab company to be picked-up, saying he thought this was the norm everywhere,” Caruso said.
“Also the judge questioned what would happen if an out of city taxicab was bringing someone to Lawrence, would they have to stop at the border and drop off the customer. ... The judge questioned how this could be enforced,” he said.
Earlier this week city councilors added a new provision to the ordinance that authorizes police to tow cabs that violate the law.
The new law banning the out-of-town companies from working in Lawrence grew from protests by the seven taxi and livery companies that the city licenses. The company owners complained that the cost of doing business is greater for them, in part because the cost of insuring a vehicle in Lawrence is higher than in surrounding municipalities, and so they should be protected from out-of-town companies who can undercut their fares.