6/16/2008California Appeals Court Defends Red Light Cameras
California Court of Appeals ruling defended red light camera programs against a number of legal challenges.
The Fourth Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal on Friday issued a ruling designed to save the state's red light camera programs from a series of legal challenges. Five separate cases filed between 2001 and 2005 in San Diego, San Francisco and West Hollywood were combined in the decision. Each case offered a number of legal arguments centered on contractual arrangements and were designed to undermine those cities' lucrative red light camera programs. The appellate court refused to overturn lower court cases that had upheld the photo tickets.
"We find no error, as red light photo enforcement is not wasteful or illegal, and the city has no duty to grant the type of writ relief sought, e.g., the overturning of drivers' convictions for running red lights and the refund of their fines and bail forfeitures," Presiding Justice Judith McConnell wrote for the three-judge panel.
The appellate decision upheld a significant source of revenue for the state and its court system. Out of a typical $336 red light camera fine, the court's share is $130 while the state pockets $68. A contrary ruling would have cost the court system tens of millions in annual revenue. The city of West Hollywood, for example, accumulated $8,812,439 from its cut of the photo ticketing revenue.
The appeals court began its ruling by rejecting a number of legal claims against operational aspects of the ticketing programs. First, it did not allow that the devices operated as illegal speed traps because they use a method of time-distance speed measurement calculation that is banned for speeding tickets. Because these measurements were not used to issue a speeding citation, the court found the claim baseless. Second, the court dispensed with the claim that the program violated a privacy law that prohibited any person outside of a "governmental agency" from accessing private Department of Motor Vehicle information, including personal addresses.
"Best's position lacks merit because private contractors are authorized to obtain the information directly from the DMV as an arm of law enforcement agencies in red light cases, and the information is used for legitimate purposes," McConnell wrote. "Private contractors may perform administrative and day-to-day functions."
Finally, the court dismissed the charge that the cities used illegal contingency fee contracts. Although the court recognized the claim may have been valid at the time they were filed, each city was forced to stop using this form of contract when the legislature acted. This ended the plaintiffs' case.
"The purpose of a taxpayer waste cause of action is to restrain future illegal government conduct, but here, before the court entered summary judgment..., the legislature expressly prohibited municipalities from entering into contingency fee contracts," McConnell wrote. "Thus, the equitable remedy of declaratory relief would not serve to restrain future conduct and was unnecessary as the matter was moot."
The appeals court went on to defend ticketing systems against charges that contractual arrangements should be made void as a matter of sound public policy because making payments based on the number of convictions provided an incentive to cheat. The plaintiffs offered a number of examples where contractor Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), for example, ticketed motorists for red light running in the city of Los Angeles while the light, in fact, was yellow. ACS also tried to convince the city to place cameras not at high-accident intersections, but at the intersections that would generate the greatest number of tickets.
"The success of the program is centered around the per paid citation price of $60.00 and the selection of productive approaches," an ACS memorandum cited by the court stated. "Productive approaches being defined as approaches that balance the public safety and revenue objectives of both the City [of Los Angeles] and [ACS]."
The court rejected this claim by stating it had no evidence that there was a difference in the number of citations issued under flat rate and contingent fee contract arrangements. The court dismissed anecdotal evidence of innocent motorists receiving citations as "isolated glitches."
"There was no evidence that ACS intentionally caused the problems to increase its revenue," McConnell wrote.
The court did not address the issue of whether cost neutrality arrangements in contracts violate the new legislative prohibition on contingent fee contracts. A full copy of the ruling is available in a 95k PDF file at the source link below.