LAWRENCE — City councilors last night added new teeth to a law banning out-of-town cabbies from picking up fares in the city. Members authorized police to tow cabs that violate the law, after a combative exchange with a lawyer representing an Andover cab company that has seen 21 of its drivers charged since the law was passed.
Meanwhile, a few hours before the council voted 7-0 to allow the tows, the cab company’s request for an injunction blocking the city from enforcing the law reached a federal court, which granted the city’s request to take over the case from the state court where it was filed last week.
The city did not explain why it wanted the case moved from the state Superior Court across a courtyard from City Hall to a federal District Court in Boston. The federal court was able to take the case, however, because it alleges that banning out-of-town cabbies from Lawrence violates the equal protection guarantees in the U.S. Constitution by creating an inferior class of cabbies out of those who do not hold one of the 150 medallions that the city has issued.
The Lawrence District Court had scheduled a hearing on the request for the injunction for yesterday afternoon, which it canceled when the case was moved. Federal District Court Judge Nathaniel Gorton agreed to hold his own hearing on the injunction at 2 p.m. tomorrow.
Yesterday’s skirmishing over the taxi ban climaxed at the City Council meeting, when lawyer Peter Caruso, who is representing the Andover Central Transportation Corp. and five of its drivers, alleged that the city was attempting to drive away the out of town cabbies in an effort to protect what he suggested was a cartel of three companies that hold 123 of the city’s 150 medallions.