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10/18/2005
San Diego Collecting on Old, Illegal Red Light Camera Tickets
San Diego, California is seizing bank accounts over discredited red light camera tickets more than five years old.

San Diego Camera
Strapped for cash, the city of San Diego, California has begun seizing bank accounts over old red light camera citations deemed "untrustworthy" by the courts. Ramona resident Peg Jardin says she never received the ticket she was told she had to pay -- with interest. The tickets were supposed to have been thrown out in 2001 after San Diego lost the largest-ever criminal traffic court case and was forced to shut down its photo enforcement program.

"The evidence obtained from the red light camera system as presently operated appears so untrustworthy and unreliable that it lacks foundation and should not be admitted," Judge Ronald L. Styn ruled in August, 2001 (full text of ruling).

Jardin's odyssey began this August when she tried to fill up at a gas station. Even though she knew there was more than enough money in her account to cover a full tank, the pump rejected her debit card. Later, an ATM machine would not allow her to access her account and she went to the bank to find out what was happening.

"They told me that they couldn't really tell me anything except that the California Franchise Tax Board put a levy on my funds and had withdrawn every penny in my account to pay for 'something,'" Jardin said.

The Franchise Tax Board informed Jardin that she never paid a ticket dated November 15, 1999. It did not matter to the Tax Board that Jardin never received the ticket. She would have to stand in court and prove her innocence for a violation that may have happened six years ago. At Jardin's hearing, however, the judge quickly ruled that the citation was "deemed illegal" for the year in which it was issued. He dismissed her case and waived the civil assessment, but Jardin still didn't have her money back. Unemployed at the time of the incident, the amount involved was extremely important to her. She was told a check would come in two months refunding the money seized from her account.

"The way I see it, Alliance One, the collection agency, stole my money," Jardin said in an interview with TheNewspaper. "The money, which was erroneously taken out of my account for a ticket that was deemed unlawful will be returned in two months. For someone unemployed, two months is two months too long."

Jardin was given a paper to carry around "until further notice" stating that the case was dismissed and the civil assessment fee was waived. This is important as some cities like Bridgeport, Connecticut have begun confiscating cars for as little as $85 in unpaid fines.

After a long back and forth between the city of San Diego, Alliance One, the Department of Motor Vehicles, her bank and the California Superior Court, Jardin finally got her money back. She is concerned, however, that many others may have paid money to the city just to avoid the hassle she went through.

"There are many others who have paid their tickets and they should have their money back," Jardin said. "What about those people that got these tickets that can't come to California traffic court to fight it?"



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