Friday, September 10, 2010

"Don't Take My Red-Light Cameras Away!"

In one of the most creative lawsuits to come down the road in a long time, a lawyer for one of those outfits that manufactures, installs and maintiains the hated-red-light cameras that snap speeding tickets is suing to block a referendum by voters seeking to have the cameras prohibited.  In a story at the Baytown Sun, reporteer Mark Fleming tells us about the lawsuit filed in Texas by teh American Traffic Soulutions company alleging, inter alia, that the petition and referendum violates the Votere's Rights Act!  Here's Mr. Flemings's story:

American Traffic Solutions, the company that owns and operates the cameras and sensor systems used to enforce red light compliance at several Baytown intersections, filed a lawsuit against the city Thursday seeking to overturn the city’s decision to call an election on an amendment to the red light camera ordinance.

In addition to repeating previous claims the amendment to the ordinance constitutes a repeal of the ordinance and violates state code, the lawsuit also claims the city is violating the federal Voting Rights Act.

City Attorney Ignacio Ramirez defended the city in a hearing Thursday in which ATS sought a temporary restraining order against the city, according to Patti Jett, public affairs coordinator for the City of Baytown. The temporary restraining order to stop the election was not granted, she said. Another hearing has been scheduled on the matter.

In its suit, American Traffic Solutions presents several claims to justify stopping the election, including:

• A claim the amendment to the city’s red light ordinance constitutes a repeal of the ordinance. Under the city charter, there are tight time limits on how soon a petition can be presented calling for a referendum to repeal an ordinance, but not limits on when a petition can be presented to amend an ordinance. An earlier attempt to repeal the red light camera ordinance was rejected by the city on that basis.
• A claim the proposed ordinance includes a definition of 'law enforcement officer' that would not allow Baytown police to enforce the law.
• A claim the proposed ordinance seeks to override state law in restricting the use of photo-enforcement equipment.
• A claim the election violates the Voting Rights Act.

The claim of violation of the Voting Rights Act is also being used in a contest to a pending election in the City of Houston regarding its red light camera program. Unlike the Baytown case, the Houston lawsuit is in federal court and was filed by a political action committee supporting red light cameras, rather than by American Traffic Solutions.

The Baytown lawsuit says the Voting Right Act violation comes from the city allowing a referendum petition outside of the 20-day window allowed by law. The suit says 'no approval [from the Department of Justice] was sought (or received) to bypass the previously-approved twenty-day limitation on referendum petitions.' Further, the suit maintains, 'By permitting an unauthorized ballot proposition to be placed before the voters, the City has created a scenario whereby voters who oppose the Safety Camera Program — a group that historically tends to vote in a conservative manner — will vote in greater numbers than would otherwise have turned out for a November 2, 2010 election. This change in voting practices and procedures results in the potential for minority voting strength to be diluted through the inclusion of an unauthorized ballot measure.'

In response to a written question asking if the company had previously used the Voting Rights Act as a legal strategy to block elections, ATS Vice President for Governmental Relations and General Counsel George Hittner said,  'ATS’ complaint is not based on the premise advanced in your question. ATS’ claims in this lawsuit are based on the calling of a costly and voidable election.'
In response to a written question asking if the company had any studies or other evidence supporting its contention regarding the political leanings of potential voters, Hittner provided the identical answer, 'ATS’ complaint is not based on the premise advanced in your question. ATS’ claims in this lawsuit are based on the calling of a costly and voidable election.'

When asked how many of its clients the company has sued, Hittner replied, 'None. However, we are required by law to file this challenge before the election occurs for the simple reason that an election contest is not available as a possible remedy after the election occurs.'

Speaking for the city, Jett said the election is still on as of this time."
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The introduction of Red Light Cameras by your local law makers and the reelection of anyone connected with the installation of these devices should cast into doubt the wisdom of democracy as a form of government. 

Seriously, here, in OurTown, due process consists of a hearing in which a former cop, decides whether you have a valid argument against the citation issued.  I went into a hearing several years ago on behalf of the BSL, and I asked the city's hearing officer to "prove his case."  He said "what?"  I said, "where's your expert to explain the certification of the camera's technology and accuracy?"  He said, "Huh?" 

She paid the $100 fine. 

That's . . . random.

9 comments:

  1. Another red light whiner. Don't want a red light ticket. It's actually pretty simple (though admittedly it is harder for some people than others.) Don't speed. Were you drunk again?

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  2. Anon @ 9:05

    Thanks for commenting! No booze for the Bad Lawyer, "random drug and alcohol testing" is part of my movie these days.

    My problem with red light cameras is multi-fold: passive surveillance cameras by the government is a slippery slope (albeit probably too late); no rules of evidence in the proceedings, at least here in OurState; and, no due process as lawyers understand that concept.

    Oh, and in 40 years of driving (knock on wood) I've had two speeding tickets. So, no I don't speed through OurTown.
    BL

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  3. Slippery slope arguments are always silly. Wait until you get the the objectionable part of the slope before you object. You lose all credibility when you argue for an extra buffer zone of protection around your rights. Due process entitles you to confront the evidence against you. The problem with red light cameras is not that you can't confront the evidence, it is that the evidence is (usually) too strong. There are no serious due process objections to red light cameras. Due process is what every person semi-literate in the law trots out, disingenuously, when they think that the legal system's version of what's fair should be the same as their own personal version. (Actually, what they want is a free pass from legal rules generally, on the ground that they're special - what silliness.) The right of free speech under the first amendment is another topic on which you see special pleading of this sort. Most people in this Country have about a lower school level understanding of the Constitution and spout off boldly based on that understanding, with no idea of how complicated and qualified everything in that document truly is. As for red light cameras, to all the bozos out there if not to you (I'll take your word that you don't speed): Don't speed and you have nothing to worry about.

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  4. Anon @ 9:12--

    Thanks for the spirited defense of your position, and I generally agree that the "slippery slope" argument sheds very little light. But you are mistaken if you think we have not already given up way too much privacy in exchange for "safety" or "security." Stationary cameras to snap your photo are offensive, and they are a good idea, why? That's what's missing from your critique.

    If we are in fact a government of and by and for the people, and the people do not want red light cameras and laws, why is it a good and defensible thing to have them? Where is your affirmative defense of the lawsuit that would purport to take away the right of the people to vote down these laws? Or is your point simply to take rhetorical pot shots without any positive argument?

    Your remark about due process really gives you away. Due process as that doctrine of the law enshrined in our constitution that says that law will "be in a regular course of administration through courts of justice." Red Light cameras and the enforcement of citations issued pursuant to these laws, take millions of dollars our of the economy as a revenue stream for municipalities from owners of cars on the basis of an allegation of speeding without any "regualr course of administration through courts of justice." You get a ticket, and if you the car's owner contest the ticket the municipality does not have to prove any element of the offense. The municipality claims that based on technology which their representatives are incommpetent and unqualified to explain, certify, or prove--a driver of your plated car was "speeding" at such and such a place. This sort of approach to proof would not hold up in any other venue. Yet, millions of dollars in wealth transfer occur without any cognizable process.

    Due process requires a course of legal proceedings according to rules and principles which have been established in our legal system. Where, Anon, is the ability to confron the "witness against you?" Where is the judge? Where is the prosecutor? All of these "details" are disposed of under these red light camera laws. Ridiculous.

    Your turn.

    BL

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  5. The real issue is that by claiming that moving violations (historically treated as misdemeanor crimes) are now civil violations, RLC proponents (and I bet Anon is a paid shill for one of the companies)claim that much less process is due. But the penalties are often higher than if a cop stopped you and gave you a ticket. Fact is no cop would waste 10 minutes of his life enfocing the rolling right red turns these cameras "prosecute" every day. The cameras also record at 25 frames per second (european video standard) and are played back by judges at 30 frames so everything looks 20% faster. try getting a municipal hearing officer to allow testimony on that!

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  6. "red light camera paintball" is fun
    why sit at a red light with no other cars around? play "red light camera paintball" is fun

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  7. "red light camera paintball" is fun

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete