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2/3/2009
California Appeals Court Rejects Attempt to Unpublish Red Light Camera Decision
Decision overturning California red light camera ticket remains final and could affect cities throughout the state.

Presiding Justice David G. SillsThe California Court of Appeal on Friday rejected a request by the city of Santa Ana to unpublish a lower court decision that could force the refund of thousands of illegally issued red light camera tickets. Earlier last month an appellate division judge with the Orange County Superior Court determined that Santa Ana had violated state law when it failed to provide a thirty-day warning period before issuing tickets at each individual intersection equipped with a red light camera (view decision).

The city maintained that it was never necessary to have operational cameras issue warning citations after a thirty-day warning period was offered at the first photo enforced intersection in 2003. Appellate Division Judge Stephen L. Perk found that the statute made no sense if construed in that manner. The city attorney was unsuccessful in his attempt to persuade the higher court that the appellate division had denied the city due process in a matter of "great concern."

"The city of Santa Ana was fundamentally denied notice and the opportunity to be heard on an issue that has severe consequences for the city of Santa Ana, as well as other cities throughout the state," Santa Ana City Attorney Joseph W. Fletcher argued in a brief to the Court of Appeal. "Deciding a case of this nature with briefing and oral argument by only a single party makes a sham of the adversarial system... The appellate division was robbed of the opportunity in this case to utilize the adversarial system to reach justice."

The district attorney was properly served with all briefs and notices required during the course of the court's proceedings, but Fletcher insisted that the city attorney's office had sole jurisdiction over the matter. Neither party showed up for proceedings before the appellate division. In a pair of letters to defendant Thomas Fischetti prior to his trial, the city attorney's office denied that it had jurisdiction over his case.

"The district attorney's office is charged with prosecution of California Vehicle Code violations," Deputy City Attorney Laura A. Rossini wrote on March 13, 2008.

"As we discussed on the telephone, the Santa Ana City Attorney's Office is not the prosecuting agency for this citation and therefore does not have authority to dismiss it," Rossini wrote in a second letter dated March 27.

The Santa Ana City Attorney's Office yesterday filed papers in the Superior Court, Appellate Division demanding a rehearing of the issue, but the request is unlikely to succeed. The appellate division has already issued at least two other unpublished opinions that arrived at the same conclusion on the question of whether the thirty-day warning period applies to every intersection equipped with a camera. One decision was against the city of Santa Ana. The other involved Fischetti battling a ticket issued by the city of Costa Mesa (read decision). In 2005, the California Supreme Court declined to overturn the appellate division's reasoning in Costa Mesa, despite urgent pleas from the California League of Cities that the case would affect the sixty-six jurisdictions using photo enforcement in the state, all of which failed to provide the appropriate warning period. The dire consequences predicted in legal briefs failed to materialize when the Costa Mesa decision remained unpublished.

The court of appeal now considers the matter closed. Unless the appellate division grants Santa Ana's request for rehearing, the ruling will remain final and hold full precendential value in Orange County and persuasive authority throughout the rest of the state.

A copy of the denial order issued by Court of Appeal, Fourth District Presiding Justice David G. Sills along with the argument from the city of Santa Ana is available in an 800k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Court Order, Case G041501 (Court of Appeal, State of California, 1/29/2009)

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