2/28/2011Missouri Attorney General Takes Traffic Camera Donations, Supports Cameras
Missouri attorney general ruling favors red light cameras after accepting three dozen campaign checks from camera lobbyists.
After accepting more than three dozen campaign checks from registered photo enforcement lobbyists and other interested parties, Missouri's attorney general on Thursday handed down a decision endorsing the use of automated ticketing machines despite significant legal controversy. Former Attorney General Jay Nixon stated when the city of Arnold started using red light cameras in 2005 that he believed tickets sent in the mail were not valid. The office of current Attorney General Chris Koster, however, issued a letter to state Senator Jim Lembke (R-St. Louis) defending the practice.
"State law is silent on the use of cameras to enforce red light ordinances, so an otherwise valid red light ordinance would not conflict with state law merely because it provides for enforcement by camera," Solicitor General James R. Layton wrote on Koster's behalf. "Section 302.225.1 [of the state code] does address reporting traffic offenses -- which would include qualifying 'red light' violations -- to the director of revenue... Where an ordinance contains nothing to prevent a municipal court from making any required reports of moving violations, the ordinance could not conflict with this section."
Even the law firm retained by Missouri's top red light camera vendor, American Traffic Solutions (ATS), admitted in a memo that such an argument would not hold up in a court of law. ATS gambled that it could gain a "first mover" advantage over its rivals by running camera programs in Missouri despite their uncertain legal status. The company hoped it could lobby the legislature into changing the law. Six years later, photo ticketing remains unauthorized.
"We do not believe, however, that the municipalities possess the authority to adopt an ordinance that would permit the municipality to circumvent the Missouri Director of Revenue's point system for the suspension and revocation motor vehicle licenses," Stinson Morrison Hecker attorney Stephen P. Chinn wrote in a 2005 memo to the president of ATS. "Under current Missouri law, every court with jurisdiction over any state laws or county or municipal ordinances regulating the operation of vehicles on highways must report, to the Missouri Highway Patrol, a record of any plea or finding of guilty of any person convicted of any moving violation under the state, county or municipal regulations within ten days after the record is made... The mandatory language used in the text of the statute supports a conclusion that an ordinance of this nature would conflict with state law." (view full letter)
Lobbyists from Stinson Morrison Hecker have since poured cash into Koster's campaign coffers. Jane Dueker, whose key role in bringing red light cameras in the state was documented by the Riverfront Times, provided the bulk of the $8000 donated. Registered ATS lobbyist Phillip P. Scaglia provided another $1900. Former US Attorney Edward L. Dowd Jr, who was paid to defend the city of Arnold's red light camera program, gave $5600 to Koster. Other Dowd family members provided thousands more.
A copy of the attorney general's ruling is available in a 100k PDF file at the source link below.