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California: Traffic Camera Company Sues to Stop Referendum
Murrieta, California resident sues on behalf of red light camera company to block referendum on photo ticketing.

Diana Serafin
When the issue of red light cameras or speed cameras has been placed before voters, automated ticketing has lost in twenty-three of twenty-four contests. The country's leading photo enforcement firm, American Traffic Solutions (ATS), does not like those odds. Last week it secured the help of Murrieta, California resident Stephen Flynn in filing a lawsuit that hopes to block residents from voting on the issue in the city's November 6 general election.

Late last year, Murrieta activist Diana Serafin succeeded in securing the number of signatures required to let voters decide whether machines should continue issuing $483 citations at city intersections. Serafin expressed surprise that suit would be filed to thwart the public vote.

"I don't think they have any chance at taking away our First Amendment rights," Serafin told TheNewspaper in an interview. "We have a right to petition the government."

Flynn was part of the city's traffic commission that recommended the use of cameras, but photo ticketing companies frequently disguise their activities using third parties. In Washington state, an ATS vice president was caught emailing the mayor of Mukilteo seeking a resident willing to file suit to block the election, writing "a resident might look better" than the company or the mayor in filing a suit directly. Here, Flynn agreed to have his name on the court documents. In 2003, Flynn mounted a bid for the city council while a manager of a Hollywood Video store. He received 934 votes, landing him in sixth place.

The photo enforcement suit was filed by the high-end, Sacramento-based election law firm Bell, McAndrews and Hiltachk LLP. The firm's heavy-hitters are on the case, including attorneys Charles H. Bell, who also serves as general counsel to the California Republican Party, and Paul T. Gough, the former litigation manager for Mobil Oil.

"Placement of the initiative on the ballot for the November 6, 2012 election would violate the California constitution in the ways enumerated herein, because the initiative is beyond the power of the electorate to enact," Gough wrote in the brief to the court. "Because the electors do not have the power to enact the initiative, it would be a waste of taxpayer (public) dollars for the measure to appear on the November 2012 ballot. The city of Murrieta has estimated the fiscal impact of putting the measure on the ballot at $7000."

Serafin lacks the backing of corporations like ATS and its largest shareholder, Goldman Sachs, but she intends to fight as best as she can as an individual. She says she is currently looking for a lawyer to take on the case and for financial support from individuals interested in ensuring voters have a say. Ultimately, she believes the lawsuit will backfire.

"It's turning more people on my side," Serafin said.

A status hearing has been set for July 10 in the Riverside County Superior Court.

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