9/19/2011Missouri: Lawsuit Challenges Red Light Camera Legality, Astroturf
Class action suit against Hazelwood, Missouri challenges red light camera front group.
Lawyers for motorists in Missouri are looking to capitalize on recent discoveries regarding deceptive marketing campaigns orchestrated by red light camera companies. On Wednesday, The Simon Law Firm filed a class action lawsuit against American Traffic Solutions (ATS) and the city of Hazelwood seeking refunds for thousands of photo enforcement tickets issued without the sanction of state law.
"In bringing this class action, plaintiffs seek to expose what they and other Missouri citizens believe is an unscrupulous business venture between an out-of-state for-profit corporation and a municipal government seeking to fill city coffers," attorneys Ryan A. Keane and John E. Campbell wrote.
The suit argues that ATS used Hazelwood Police Chief Carl Wolf to head Missouri Families for Safer Roads (MFSR), a front group created to enhance the revenue generation efforts of ATS.
"ATS recruited Chief Wolf to essentially market and promote ATS and red light cameras," Keane and Campbell wrote. "Upon information and belief, Chief Wolf, as the president and sole corporate officer of MFSR and an unofficial ATS spokesman, has accepted gifts and other gratuities from ATS."
The suit also mentions how Wolf appeared in commercials for the National Coalition of Safer Roads, which, like MFSR, has been exposed as entirely funded, operated and controlled by ATS. The suit argues that these groups helped deceive the public in an effort to conceal an illegal operation. Both the city and ATS were aware that their red light camera ordinance was void under state law.
"Simply put: if the goal of red light cameras is to enforce public safety, then drivers should be assessed points on their driver's license just like other moving violations and like they would if pulled over by a police officer for running a red light," Keane and Campbell wrote. "Instead, the city of Hazelwood has deliberately and unlawfully misclassified moving violations of red light signals as a 'non-moving infraction' for which 'no points will be assessed' against a driver's license. There is no rational basis for defendant Hazelwood to circumvent a Missouri state law designed to keep dangerous drivers off the road."
This line of reasoning has a great deal of legal support, including a 2005 memo from Stinson Morrison Hecker, ATS's own law firm. The memo explained red light camera tickets in Missouri would not hold up in a court of law (view full letter) because the state legislature has refused to authorize the use of automated ticketing. Cities cannot enact such ordinances on their own, a Missouri circuit court judge ruled in May (view ruling). A March 2010 state supreme court ruling (view opinion) struck down Springfield's red light camera program over its administrative hearing procedures, while also noting that red light camera violations are moving violations.