1/23/2012Washington: Judge Slaps Attempt to Block Anti-Camera Vote
Judge fines Monroe, Washington $10,000 for attempting to keep the public from voting out red light cameras.
The Snohomish County Superior Court on Thursday found Monroe, Washington liable for a fine of up to $10,000 for denying photo enforcement opponents access to the ballot. Although two-thirds of voters in the city voted against the use of red light cameras and speed cameras in November, they were only allowed to consider a measure crafted by Mayor Robert Zimmerman. He asked voters whether they wanted to continue using cameras when the vendor's contract expires in 2013.
The citizens' group Seeds of Liberty had collected signatures from nearly half the city's active voters to place an immediate and binding camera ban on the ballot. Zimmerman sued to keep voters from considering that tougher language. In a letter ruling, Judge George N. Bowden said the city went too far, violating a state statute designed to stop "strategic lawsuits against public participation" or SLAPP.
"I am granting Seeds of Liberty's motion for costs and fees because of the following reasons: Washington's anti-SLAPP remedies are not discretionary," Bowden wrote. "Having secured enough valid signatures to place Section Three on the ballot, the city's lawsuit burdens the initiative sponsors with having to defend the right of voters to express their opinions and weigh in on a matter that will directly affect them. As such, the initiative concerns an action involving public participation and the inherent rights of citizens to petition their government."
Bowden followed the precedent set down by the Washington Court of Appeals in September that struck down the binding portion of an anti-camera initiative in Bellingham while clarifying that an advisory vote section of the measure could stand (view ruling). As a result, voters will have a chance in April to vote to tell the city council to take down the cameras immediately.
"We are thrilled with this court decision because it sends a clear message to other greedy politicians and sleazy red-light camera companies that such obstructionist tactics will not only fail, but result in substantial financial penalties," initiative co-sponsor Tim Eyman wrote in an email to supporters.
Although 68 percent of the Monroe's electorate rejected automated enforcement, city leaders have stuck by their decision to continue the camera program. Eyman believes the city should accept the inevitable and cancel its photo enforcement contract.
"When are Mayor Zimmerman and the city council going to get the message and take down all the ticketing cameras in the city of Monroe?" Eyman asked. "Every day they leave them up is a slap in the face of the people of Monroe."
A copy of the letter ruling is available in a 210k PDF file at the source link below.