Friday, August 15, 2014
Redflex Unlawful Termination Lawsuit Kicked Back To State Court
After wasting months of the federal court's time, Redflex and the Australian firm's former executive vice president returned Thursday morning to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Los Angeles, California to provide Superior Court Judge Susan Bryant-Deason with an update on their unlawful termination dispute. Redflex fired the first shot in the legal tussle by suing Aaron M. Rosenberg, a former top executive, over his role in the Chicago, Illinois bribery scandal. Rosenberg countersued in a California court, claiming he was merely acting under orders from his superiors at Redflex and that the Australian firm has been using him as a scapegoat. Redflex removed the case to a federal court in May. Rosenberg has been cooperating with federal prosecutors, freely admitting that he bribed clients in a dozen states on the orders of his boss, Karen Finley, who was indicted for corruption on Wednesday. Last month, US District Court Judge George H. Wu granted Rosenberg the right to cross-examine Redflex witnesses to establish whether he was the employee of a legitimate California company, or whether "Redflex California" was a sham. The answer to this question would determine whether the state or the federal court should assume jurisdiction over the ongoing employment dispute. Redflex became uncomfortable when Rosenberg began asking too many questions. "Plaintiff [Rosenberg] has gone well beyond any reasonable boundaries of the court's order allowing 'limited' jurisdictional discovery, by serving two separate notices for lengthy 30(b)(6) depositions with 25 broad topics, in addition to serving separate 26 written discovery requests on each defendant -- 102 total requests," Redflex attorneys complained. "Plaintiff's lengthy, overbroad and unnecessary discovery is plainly designed to harass defendants and to cause a needless increase in the cost of litigation." Rosenberg asked a number of questions about the corporate structure of Redflex and its subsidiaries, focusing on the Culver City office known as "Redflex CA." Rosenberg filed a number of topics of inquiry, such as: "Deposition Subject Number 7: The business practices of Redflex CA, including its solicitation, negotiation and execution of Redflex CA contracts with Redflex CA contracting parties." Redflex would only agree to a single four-hour deposition on "limited topics." It also sought a protective order from the court to guarantee that "trade secrets" would not be revealed by Rosenberg's questions. As soon as Judge Wu refused to grant the protective order, the Australian firm relented and gave in to allow the case to be sent back to the Los Angeles courtroom.
Thursday, August 14, 2014
Redflex Officials Charged With Bribery, Fraud, Conspiracy
The former head of US operations for Redflex Traffic Systems was indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury. Karen Finley, 54, was charged with nine counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud, three counts of bribery and one count of conspiracy to use bribes to win and expand a lucrative red light camera contract with Chicago, Illinois worth $124 million. "Rooting out public corruption remains one of the FBI's highest priorities," Robert J. Holley, special agent-in-charge of the Chicago office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said in a statement. "Today's indictment underscores our commitment to work in a collaborative effort to promote honest and ethical government at all levels and to prosecute those who allegedly violated the public's trust." In May, federal prosecutors indicted John Bills, Chicago's deputy transportation commissioner, for accepting $643,000 worth of cash and benefits from Redflex in return for his providing essential insider information on how to win the lucrative contract for what became the world's largest municipal red light camera program. The money and gifts were delivered through Martin O'Malley, a Redflex contractor who was friends with Bills and was also indicted Wednesday for his role in the plot. Prosecutors say that they have emails that show Finley not only knew what she was doing, but also that she tried to cover it up in 2007 after O'Malley accidentally sent an invoice to a Redflex employee who was not aware of what was going on. "In an e-mail exchange with Individual A [Aaron M. Rosenberg] regarding the drafting of documents that would give Redflex an advantage in obtaining the contracts, defendant Finley admonished Individual A that Individual A's discussions with O'Malley about the drafts should not be in writing and advised that Finley was deleting her e-mails regarding the drafts as she was sending them," the indictment states. On September 23, 2008, Finley signed an economic disclosure statement for Chicago falsely certifying that no Redflex employee had attempted to bribe any Chicago employees. When Bills retired from the city, Finley and Rosenberg arranged to have the Traffic Safety Coalition, a front group funded and controlled by Redflex, hire Bills. When Bills left the group, Redflex hired his girlfriend. Federal prosecutors are looking to seize $613,400 plus the proceeds of the sale of a condominium in Gilbert, Arizona as funds directly related to the bribery scheme. Finley faces up to twenty years in prison for each count of wire fraud. In a statement to Australian investors on Thursday, Redflex shrugged off the charges by pointing to a hundred jurisdictions that have renewed automated ticketing contracts in spite of the cloud of corruption hanging over the Australian company.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Chicago, Illinois: Judge Throws Out Camera Tickets Over Short Yellows
By The Expired Meter and DNAinfo Chicago Some yellow lights are too short in Chicago, Illinois, according to an administrative law judge who said he has thrown out "60 to 70 percent" of the red light camera tickets he has come across. The city says it meets the bare minimum federal standard of having yellow warning signal illuminate for three seconds at intersections. A judge who hears appeals from motorists ticketed by red-light cameras said during a hearing this week that he has seen evidence that yellow times are below the legal minimum at some Chicago intersections with red-light cameras. The hearing lasted three hours Monday after the city sent three attorneys, a law department supervisor, a public information officer and a Chicago Department of Transportation deputy director overseeing the city's traffic camera programs to defend five tickets challenged by Barnet Fagel, a video forensic specialist who helps drivers fight red light and speed camera tickets. This normally would be a brief, attorney-free affair in which drivers present photos and other evidence in the hopes of persuading the administrative law judge that their ticket ought to be thrown out. On Monday, city attorneys Alexis Long and Tom Doran spent the first 30 minutes of the hearing challenging Fagel's expertise and his ability to testify in these matters on behalf of the motorists who were ticketed. Over the objections of the city, Fagel was allowed to present his video evidence on two of the red-light tickets that he said showed yellow light times slightly under three seconds. Judge Robert Sussman dismissed the two red-light camera tickets and then surprised the hearing room by saying the Department of Administrative Hearings has been seeing a large volume of red-light camera violations that listed a yellow light time of under three seconds. "We're having a big problem with these yellow lights," Judge Sussman said. "Sixty to seventy percent are coming up under three seconds." Judge Sussman explained that he has routinely thrown out any ticket for which documentation shows the yellow light lasted less than three full seconds, and he will continue to do so until the timing is fixed. The city says yellow light times at red light camera intersections are set at the federal minimum of three seconds. Judge Sussman went on to say the issue with shortened yellow-light times popped up when Xerox Local Solutions took over the system from the scandal-plagued Redflex Traffic Systems. "What concerns me is for the last six months since Xerox took over we're seeing violations with yellows under three seconds," Judge Sussman said. "Something is going on now. Xerox is saying it's 2.9 [seconds] ... [the city] is saying they haven't changed anything." Fagel, who has seen tickets like this at about ten intersections, agreed that violation notices did not start documenting short yellow light times until Xerox became the city's vendor. "It corresponds to when Xerox took over," he said. Fagel believes Xerox's technology is accurately recording the timing at the intersections, but that the short times are not new. Fagel regularly goes out to document the signal timing at red light camera intersections on video. "The problem goes back more than the last six months," said Fagel. "It's at least six years. I have proof of this. No one has visibly measured the steady yellow light timing at these intersections except for me." After the red light camera tickets got dismissed, the three speed camera tickets were heard. Despite the video evidence Fagel presented and his technical challenges of the city and state's speed camera law, the hearing officer upheld all three speeding violations. Fagel said he believes the crew of lawyers and other officials sent to Monday's hearing is a sign that the city is concerned. "I think the city with all the other things going on -- the Redflex bribery scandal, the Tribune story, the inspector general -- the city is quite concerned," Fagel explained. City representatives at the hearing would not comment. The transportation department, Xerox and the Chicago law department have not yet responded to requests for comment. Detailed coverage of Chicago motoring issues can be found at The Expired Meter and at DNAinfo Chicago.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Maryland: Group Accuses Speed Camera Operators Of Lying About The Law
The Maryland Drivers Alliance says local governments have been lying about the law to boost speed camera cash through snitching. The advocacy group filed formal complaints last week against cities and counties that have been telling innocent motorists who receive a photo ticket that they must turn informant against wives, husbands, children or friends when a speed camera ticket arrives in the mail, even though the law says that is not the case. The group filed a complaint with the newly created speed camera "ombudsman" for the city of Gaithersburg pointing out that the city's website told motorists who were not driving at the time of the alleged violation that there is only one way to get out of the ticket. "The law provides that the registered owner must provide a signed affidavit that states they were not operating the vehicle at the time of the violation and provide the name, address and, if possible, the driver's license identification number of the person who was driving at the time of the violation," the city website claimed. "The police have the discretion to then forward the citation notice to the person identified by the registered owner." Identical language, provided by the for-profit camera vendor, is found on the Montgomery County website and similar wording is used on the Maryland state speed camera page. While the language may have been accurate when it was first drafted, state law changed five years ago when the General Assembly deleted the requirement for an innocent ticket recipient to identify the driver. The Maryland Drivers Alliance is demanding that Gaithersburg and the other jurisdictions remove the obsolete and incorrect language from their websites. "The city of Gaithersburg is making an objectively false statement on their website regarding the requirements of the law, in a way that has the practical effect of biasing the system in favor of the collection of fines rather than the protection of the rights of the innocent," the group's complaint states. "The language on the city of Gaithersburg website attempts to nullify the 2009 change to the statute which removes the requirement that a person identify the driver." The state court similarly developed a uniform citation that does not inform drivers that, under the law, they have no obligation to identify the driver of the photographed vehicle. Instead, the wording implies that an innocence defense requires snitching on someone else. "If you, as the registered owner, were not operating the vehicle at the time of this infraction and you choose to identify the person who was, you shall provide to the district court a sworn to and affirmed statement and mail by certified mail, return receipt requested," the Maryland uniform citation states. "Your statement must indicate you swear or affirm that the person named in the citation was not operating the vehicle and include any corroborating evidence." John Morrissey, the chief judge of the Maryland district court, refuses to entertain any modification to the way Maryland citations are worded. "The statute does not require that the citation suggest possible defenses to the defendant, which could be considered providing legal advice,'" Angelita Plemmer Williams, a spokesman for the Maryland Judiciary, said in a written statement. The Maryland Drivers Alliance considers the uniform citation language giving the ticket recipient instructions on how to snitch on someone else to be "providing legal advice."
Monday, August 11, 2014
Virginia Court Limits Windshield Obstruction Tickets
Thousands of motorists are ticketed in Virginia every year for having a "windshield obstruction" such as a GPS unit or a small item hung from the rearview mirror. The state Court of Appeals on Tuesday significantly curtailed this practice after finding the police were wrong in the case of Loren Anthony Mason Jr, a passenger in a car stopped in Sussex County in the afternoon of March 3, 2012. Waverly Police Officer Willie Richards had been hiding on the side of the road with his radar gun, looking for potential citations when he saw a vehicle pass that had an object dangling from the rearview mirror. He thought he had an easy ticket. The car had a three inch by five inch Ft. Lee employee parking pass issued by the Department of Defense hanging behind the rearview mirror. Virginia law on windshield obstructions appears straightforward. "It shall be unlawful for any person to drive a motor vehicle on a highway in the Commonwealth with any object or objects, other than a rear view mirror, sun visor, or other equipment of the motor vehicle approved by the superintendent, suspended from any part of the motor vehicle in such a manner as to obstruct the driver's clear view of the highway through the windshield," Virginia Code Section 46.2-1054 states. Before Officer Richards handed the driver, Tony Jarrett, a ticket for the "obstruction" and failure to wear a seatbelt, he ordered him out of the car so he could pat him down for weapons. After Jarrett consented, a bag of marijuana was discovered in his back pocket. The rest of the car was searched, turning up more contraband. Mason appealed his conviction for possession, arguing that the initial traffic stop based on the windshield was invalid. At trial, the judge asked Officer Richards whether he verified his public safety concern by looking through the windshield of the car while he was searching inside it. "No, ma'am," Officer Richards testified. "Not to see -- not to determine, you know, whether I could see out of the window or not where the dangling object was, no, ma'am." State prosecutors argued that any danging object, no matter how small, justifies a traffic stop. While the trial judge agreed that the parking pass would not be an obstruction "on any car in America," she agreed with the state that anything dangling could be considered reasonable suspicion for a stop. The three-judge appellate panel found this strict interpretation directly conflicts with the statute. "Code Section 46.2-1054 proscribes only suspended objects that obstruct the driver's clear view of the highway," Judge Robert J. Humphreys wrote for the majority. "What exactly constitutes an obstruction of the clear view of the highway is not specified by the statute. What is clear is that the statute does not proscribe all objects suspended from the interior of a motor vehicle. If the General Assembly had intended to proscribe all objects suspended from any part of a motor vehicle, it would have said so." The majority held that there must be some evidence of actual obstruction to conduct a traffic stop, otherwise there would be no particularized suspicion of an offense. They argued that it would allow police to detain just about anyone given the common items hung from windshields. The majority chided Officer Richards for stopping someone for conduct that "to the untrained eye appears to be wholly innocent." "Some are purely decorative such as the iconic 'fuzzy dice' or hold personal or sentimental meaning such as a graduation tassel or rosary beads, while still other objects have utilitarian uses such as GPS devices, toll transponders, air fresheners or, as in this case, parking permits," Judge Humphreys wrote. "Significantly, these items are permitted to be attached to a vehicle unless they are of a size or positioned in such a way as to impair the ability of the driver to view the road." Mason's case was remanded for a new trial. A copy of the ruling is available in a 200k PDF at the source link below.
Source: Mason v. Virginia (Court of Appeals, State of Virginia, 8/5/2014)