Friday, September 19, 2014
California Workers Sue Red Light Camera Firm Over Poor Pay, Conditions
A red light camera vendor may be forced to pay millions in back pay to its employees. A number of them have taken their claim to a San Mateo County courtroom with the dispute creating a rift between American Traffic Solutions (ATS) and the cities that are its customers. "We're taking advantage of the economic times to grow our business," ATS President James Tuton explained at a Phoenix Business Journal event in 2011. "Services are cheap. Whatever it used to cost us to do trenching and boring is now a tenth of what it used to cost... People are throwing themselves at us now just to keep the people employed. So we're taking advantage of it." In July, the city of Millbrae decided to withhold $92,654 in red light camera contract payments to ATS over the wage dispute filed by former ATS field service technician Matthew G. Jaime. Under state law, a city must set aside funds to cover the potential damages whenever a claim is made on a public construction project. ATS paid Jaime $20 an hour to maintain and repair red light cameras in a number of cities from February 2010 through April 2014. Jaime's lawsuit contends this hourly rate was illegally low. Contractors are supposed to be paid higher union rates known as "prevailing wage" on public works projects under California law. In this case, Jaime should have been paid the union rate for the classification of "Electrician: Inside Wireman" which is $39 an hour, or $58 with benefits. The discrepancy adds up to a significant amount. ATS paid Jaime $35,307 for his work in South San Francisco. He says he is owed another $73,857. In Capitola, ATS paid $15,455, underpaying by $28,066. In Davis, ATS paid $12,500 leaving $19,602 unpaid. ATS denies it owes one cent more. "Any maintenance or other work performed by Mr. Jaime on ATS' behalf in connection with the program is incidental to the true purpose of ATS' agreement with the city, which is to provide red light monitoring and enforcement services to the city using ATS' Axsis system," ATS project manager Raymond L. Pedrosa said in an affidavit. "Mr. Jaime was not paid the prevailing wage rate because the red light photo program was not and is not a public works project." The ATS argument has already been rejected by the California Department of Industrial Relations, which has taken action against both ATS and its main rival Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia in more than a dozen cities where the companies ignored the law (view case). Last week, Millbrae demanded that ATS send lawyers to defend the city against Jaime's lawsuit, as the city's contract with ATS requires the company to handle such challenges. "Pursuant to the provisions of the agreement, it is ATS's obligation to defend and indemnify the city with regard to the lawsuit," Millbrae's attorney Alexandra V. Atencio wrote. "It is important that ATS accept this tender as soon as possible as the city has already or soon will begin incurring attorneys' fees and costs in defense of the lawsuit." In addition to Jaime, two other former ATS employees, Peter Arroyo and Matthew Richard Borchardt, joined the suit. Together they worked on red light camera projects in Capitola, Davis, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Millbrae, Palm Springs, Riverside, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, Santa Maria, South San Francisco and Whittier. The employees say that ATS did not pay them overtime, as required, and were denied meal and rest breaks. "In doing the acts as alleged herein, in deliberately acting to take each and every plaintiffs' labor without pay and in deliberately acting to take each and every plaintiffs' wages, ATS, and each of them, acted with malice, oppression and with an intent to deny plaintiffs their wages, all in a willful and conscious disregard for the rights of the plaintiffs," Richard E. Donahoo, the employees' attorney, wrote. The employees are seeking a declaration that ATS has engaged in unlawful and unfair business practices. They seek back wages, plus interest, penalties and attorneys' fees.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Ohio Supreme Court Briefed On Anti-Camera Referendum
It will be up to the seven justices of the Ohio Supreme Court to decide whether the city of Maple Heights and its traffic camera vendor may deny residents their right to vote on the use of red light cameras and speed cameras. The court's decision will have sweeping ramifications in a state where residents in seven cities -- Ashtabula, Cincinnati, Chillicothe, Heath, Garfield Heights, South Euclid and Steubenville -- have already used initiatives to prohibit automated ticketing. Instead of fighting, Cleveland's city council placed an identical camera ban measure on the November ballot. On Wednesday, the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections told the court that October 6 is the absolute final day the referendum could be placed on the ballot. Justice Terrence O'Donnell also recused himself from the case. After being presented last month with verified signatures to put the camera ban on the ballot, the Maple Heights City Council refused to put the charter amendment on the ballot, as required by law. The city's law director, John J. Montello urged this action, saying the city could not afford to lose the cameras. "As discussed at the numerous budget hearings, the photo monitoring devices are an integral part of our recovery plan submitted to the state for approval," Montello wrote in a memo to the council. "Federal, state and county cuts have crippled the city in addition to the real estate market crash... The mayor and council have decided what is in the best interest of its citizens." Montello insists that the city charter requires ten percent of registered voters sign the petition, not ten percent of those participating in the last election. Attorneys Curt C. Hartman and Christopher P. Finney countered that the Ohio Constitution overrides the charter, citing several state Supreme Court cases establishing that "ten percent of the number of votes cast at the last preceding general municipal election" is the correct standard, which was met in Maple Heights. Hartman and Finney asked the high court to force the item onto the ballot. "When, as in the present case, a city council is timely presented with an initiative petition proposing a charter amendment that contains a sufficient number of valid signatures, this court has repeatedly issued writs of mandamus to compel the placement of the proposed charter amendment on the ballot at the next regular election," Hartman and Finney wrote. "In so holding, this court adhered to the principle that municipal charters may not be construed so as to overrule rights guaranteed to the citizens of Ohio by the Ohio Constitution."
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Delaware Court Overturns Hearsay Traffic Stops
A police officer may not pull over and search a motorist because he heard from a cop in another car say that the motorist failed to use a turn signal, a New Castle County, Delaware court ruled on Thursday. Judge Diane Clarke Streett denied the state's attempts to rehear the case of Dilip S. Nyala on the grounds that certain types of traffic stops allow one officer to radio his observation of an alleged violation to another. Under Delaware law, police may team up with an observing officer to issue tickets for speeding, red light running, cell phone use or lack of seat belt use. All other alleged violations must be committed in the police officer's presence. Police started following Nyala on October 1, 2013, after an informant claimed the man was involved in a drug deal. Detectives tried to obtain a search warrant, but the judge was not available. So they went out looking for a traffic violation that they could use as a pretext to stop and search Nyala's silver 2012 Nissan Altima as it drove on North Scott Street in Wilmington. Agent Toolan, who was in an unmarked Pontiac G6, claimed the Altima turned right without signaling. Toolan reported this over the radio, and one of the three other police vehicles that were following Nyala conducted a traffic stop. There was no obvious contraband in view in the Altima, but officers hauled Nyala away from the scene in handcuffs. No traffic ticket was issued. Without being read his rights, Nyala consented to a search of his apartment where 17 grams of heroin, 48 grams of crack and 66 grams of marijuana were found. Nyala's lawyer had this evidence suppressed as the result of an illegal arrest. "Here, there is no evidence that the officers personally observed defendant commit a traffic code violation in their presence or that there was a speed or red light violation (where the arresting officer is working in conjunction with a reading or observing officer), the officers lacked probable cause to arrest defendant for a Title 21 violation," Judge Streett ruled. "Here, the officers did not have an arrest warrant or a reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity to stop defendant." The court deemed the consent "tainted" and found the evidence was seized as a result of a Fourth Amendment violation. The court found no new arguments were offered by prosecutors attempting to overturn the decision. A copy of the September 11 decision is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Delaware v. Nyala (Delaware Superior Court, 9/11/2014)
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
New Jersey Senate Committee Votes To Ban Out-Of-State Photo Tickets
Democratic and Republican members of the New Jersey Senate Transportation Committee are in full agreement on one thing: Red light cameras and speed cameras are about making money, not improving traffic safety. The panel on Tuesday unanimously approved a measure modeled after a South Dakota law that would immunize the state's residents from photo enforcement tickets issued by other jurisdictions. The measure, championed by state Assemblyman Declan J. O'Scanlon Jr (R-Monmouth), forbids the state Motor Vehicle Commission from cooperating with NLETS, the interstate motor vehicle information network that red light camera and speed camera companies use to look up the license plate and registration information on out-of-state drivers. Without this information, the ticket cannot be mailed. Two dozen towns currently use red light cameras in New Jersey under five-year pilot program that will expire before the end of the year unless a new law is enacted. Governor Chris Christie (R), after waffling on the issue, has indicated that he may not sign a bill to renew the program, even if one were to reach his desk. "I have concerns about it, and my inclination is not to continue it," Christie said in an August 28 speech in Sea Bright. O'Scanlon, the leading opponent of the cameras in the legislature, says the cameras are done in the Garden State. He wants to do more than just outlaw cameras. "Our program here will die a merciful death on December 16, but New Jersey should go further, which this bill will do, and stop us from being complicit in what amounts to theft from our motorists," O'Scanlon said Tuesday. "If our red light camera program here is a disaster for motorists and motorist rights, the programs in other states are catastrophic for those rights. They have even less checks and balances on them." O'Scanlon cited the Washington, DC inspector general's report (view audit) that found the program in the nation's capital was a "wild west" where tickets were mailed to individuals regardless of whether they did anything wrong. Chairman Nicholas J. Sacco (D-North Bergen) pointed to the the way Maryland and New York have specifically been placing speed cameras in areas designed to trap out-of-state drivers. "It just seems unfair, and we don't have them [speed cameras]," Sacco said. "So why should we have to enrich the coffers of states that have them? They're simply money-makers... South Dakota showed a lot of courage. I look at this as an abuse of New Jersey drivers and I'm happy that we all agree." A copy of O'Scanlon's bill is available in a 20k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Assembly Number A3527 (New Jersey Legislature, 9/15/2014)
Monday, September 15, 2014
Florida: Red Light Camera Ballot Battle Hits The Courtroom
Officials from the city of Brooksville, Florida have been conspiring with photo ticketing vendors to keep residents from having a say in whether red light cameras are used in the community. Patrick and Shirley Miketinac successfully filed a petition calling for a vote on a city charter amendment that would outlaw the use of cameras. As soon as the supervisor of elections certified that a sufficient number of petition signatures were valid, the city's leadership began coordinating with Sensys, the private company that runs the camera program, to block the Miketinacs' access to the ballot. "This is the answer from our lawyers," the head of US operations for Sensys, Carlos Lofstedt, wrote in a June 11 email to the Brooksville's city attorney and city manager. "'I agree that a lawsuit needs to be filed in order to try to prevent it from going on the ballot. It looks like they covered the bases.'" Brooksville filed the first lawsuit to block the election by arguing the proposed charter amendment impermissibly forbids the city council from doing something authorized by state law. This was followed by the formation of a camera industry front group, Keep Florida Roads Safe, on August 25. On the same day, the group filed a separate lawsuit to block the vote. "They claim it's a grassroots organization," Patrick Miketinac told TheNewspaper. "When they came to the case management hearing, there were only two lawyers -- maybe more, I'm not sure -- but not one blade of grass or a grass root anywhere to be seen, except for our people. We filled the courtroom." The front group was initially registered at the address of a sixteen-unit apartment building in Miami, four blocks away from the US office of the Swedish red light camera company Sensys. After WTSP-TV began investigating, the group filed corrected papers on September 5 that moved the headquarters to Lakewood Ranch in Manatee County. American Traffic Solutions, which holds the majority of photo ticketing contracts in Florida, admitted involvement in the group to WTSP. Patrick Miketinac believes the charter amendment language will hold up in court because it was drafted by Hernando County commissioners, who initially intended a countywide vote on banning cameras. He is also confident that residents are on his side. When he started going door-to-door to talk to neighbors, Miketinac found about nine out of ten people he approached supported the effort.. "Some people from a distance started running to try to hurry up and sign the petition," Miketinac said. A hearing is scheduled next month on the motion for a declaratory judgment on the petition's validity.