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1/3/2012
Washington Appeals Court Denies Right to Challenge Traffic Tickets
Second highest court in Washington state refuses to hear any traffic ticket appeals.

Judge Laurel H. Siddoway
Washington state's second-highest court ended the year denying the right of motorists to challenge an unfair or unlawful ruling from a superior court judge. The Court of Appeals declared last Tuesday that it would not hear any appeals for infractions -- not even from city governments.

That came as bad news for the city of Spokane which had sought to overturn a Spokane County Superior Court decision throwing out red light camera tickets as unlawful. Judge Jerome Leveque examined the $124 citations that Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions (ATS) mailed to registered vehicle owners Mark Wardrop, Jennifer Lee, and Susan Annechiarico. He noted that state law requires such legal accusations to be certified true under the penalty of perjury under a signature that "states the date and place of its execution." The red light camera tickets indicated a police officer signed the citation in Spokane, but they were actually "signed" electronically by ATS in Arizona. Judge Leveque ruled in June that this process violated the law.

Upset by the potential of being forced to refund thousands of illegally issued tickets, Spokane asked the Court of Appeals to overturn Leveque's interpretation of the law. It refused to do so, insisting it had no power to rule in infraction cases.

"The appellate jurisdiction of the court of appeals does not extend to civil actions at law for the recovery of money or personal property when the original amount in controversy, or the value of the property does not exceed the sum of two hundred dollars," RCW 2.06.30 states.

That was a surprise to Spokane, because the city in 2004 had successfully used the Court of Appeals in a traffic case to deny motorist Robert W. Ward the recovery of $225 in court costs he was awarded for beating a $143 traffic ticket. The three-judge panel said last week that Ward should have argued the court had no power to rule in his case and that its own 2004 decision was fatally flawed.

"The respondent apparently did not advance a jurisdictional argument," Judge Laurel H. Siddoway wrote for the court. "Had the respondent in Ward made such an argument, however, it should have been successful... Of course, just because review was mistakenly accepted in Ward does not mean that we should repeat that mistake here, where the amount in controversy requirement is clearly lacking."

The Washington Supreme Court has slightly broader jurisdiction, but even so it may only rule narrowly on "the validity of the statute" not its construction.

"We do not presume to predict what it would do in this case," Siddoway noted.

A copy of the decision is available in a 15k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Spokane v. Wardrop (Court of Appeals, State of Washington, 11/29/2011)

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