9/7/2017Iowa Judge Orders Refunds Over Illegal Speed Camera Hearings
Des Moines, Iowa busted for violating its own laws in adjudicating speed camera tickets.
Iowa motorists who were forced to pay speed camera tickets after going through an illegal administrative hearing process will now get their money back. Polk County District Court Judge Lawrence P. McLellan on Tuesday ruled that the city of Des Moines violated its own ordinance when it set up an inadequate process for contesting tickets.
"The court finds that the undisputed facts demonstrate that the city did not provide the due process mandated under the municipal code," Judge McLellan concluded.
Des Moines gave the private Swedish contractor, Sensys Gatso, the green light to set up and operate photo radar devices on Interstate 235, and motorists who believed they unfairly received a $65 ticket were told that they had two options. They could go to an administrative hearing run by a city employee, or file a lawsuit in state court -- after paying an $85 filing fee, and "other costs." The city insisted that this process provided all the due process needed, but Judge McLellan was not persuaded.
"The hearing is not heard by a judge or magistrate, but by a city employee referred to as a hearing officer," Judge McLellan wrote. "The individual may bring documentation they have available, but there is no mention whether they may call their own witnesses unlike the municipal infraction statute which allows the defendant to call witnesses. Their available defenses are strictly curtailed. At the end of the hearing, if the hearing officer finds they are liable, they issue a 'ruling' that briefly states the violation was proven by a preponderance of the evidence."
Des Moines set out in its speed camera ordinance, however, that evidence had to be proved with the higher standard of "clear, convincing and satisfactory" evidence. While the city has home rule authority, the city is bound to abide by its own charter, municipal code and state law. Because the administrative hearings were deemed invalid, Tuesday's court order forbids the enforcement of any administrative hearing judgement in a speed camera case.
"Our clients are pleased that the court's order provides much needed due process protections..." attorney James C. Larew said in a statement. "There is more progress to achieve, going forward, but this is a very significant step in the right direction."
Judge McLellan noted that although other courts have ruled that there are no due process problems with the automated ticketing hearings in Des Moines, he laid out why this case was different -- even taking the Eighth Circuit US Court of Appeals to task (view related ruling).
"The voluntariness of this [ticket appeal] process was not reviewed by the federal district court or the federal appellate court since a record on that issue was not generated," Judge McLellan wrote. "Also the federal courts did not examine the ordinance in light of the Iowa Supreme Court's insistence that cities comply with the procedural rights provided in their ordinances as this court has done."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 200k PDF file at the source link below.