8/13/2014Chicago, Illinois: Judge Throws Out Camera Tickets Over Short Yellows
Administrative law judge in Chicago, Illinois says 70 percent of the red light camera tickets he sees had illegally short yellow times.
By The Expired Meter and DNAinfo Chicago
Some yellow lights are too short in Chicago, Illinois, according to an administrative law judge who said he has thrown out "60 to 70 percent" of the red light camera tickets he has come across. The city says it meets the bare minimum federal standard of having yellow warning signal illuminate for three seconds at intersections. A judge who hears appeals from motorists ticketed by red-light cameras said during a hearing this week that he has seen evidence that yellow times are below the legal minimum at some Chicago intersections with red-light cameras.
The hearing lasted three hours Monday after the city sent three attorneys, a law department supervisor, a public information officer and a Chicago Department of Transportation deputy director overseeing the city's traffic camera programs to defend five tickets challenged by Barnet Fagel, a video forensic specialist who helps drivers fight red light and speed camera tickets. This normally would be a brief, attorney-free affair in which drivers present photos and other evidence in the hopes of persuading the administrative law judge that their ticket ought to be thrown out.
On Monday, city attorneys Alexis Long and Tom Doran spent the first 30 minutes of the hearing challenging Fagel's expertise and his ability to testify in these matters on behalf of the motorists who were ticketed. Over the objections of the city, Fagel was allowed to present his video evidence on two of the red-light tickets that he said showed yellow light times slightly under three seconds. Judge Robert Sussman dismissed the two red-light camera tickets and then surprised the hearing room by saying the Department of Administrative Hearings has been seeing a large volume of red-light camera violations that listed a yellow light time of under three seconds.
"We're having a big problem with these yellow lights," Judge Sussman said. "Sixty to seventy percent are coming up under three seconds."
Judge Sussman explained that he has routinely thrown out any ticket for which documentation shows the yellow light lasted less than three full seconds, and he will continue to do so until the timing is fixed. The city says yellow light times at red light camera intersections are set at the federal minimum of three seconds.
Judge Sussman went on to say the issue with shortened yellow-light times popped up when Xerox Local Solutions took over the system from the scandal-plagued Redflex Traffic Systems.
"What concerns me is for the last six months since Xerox took over we're seeing violations with yellows under three seconds," Judge Sussman said. "Something is going on now. Xerox is saying it's 2.9 [seconds] ... [the city] is saying they haven't changed anything."
Fagel, who has seen tickets like this at about ten intersections, agreed that violation notices did not start documenting short yellow light times until Xerox became the city's vendor.
"It corresponds to when Xerox took over," he said.
Fagel believes Xerox's technology is accurately recording the timing at the intersections, but that the short times are not new. Fagel regularly goes out to document the signal timing at red light camera intersections on video.
"The problem goes back more than the last six months," said Fagel. "It's at least six years. I have proof of this. No one has visibly measured the steady yellow light timing at these intersections except for me."
After the red light camera tickets got dismissed, the three speed camera tickets were heard. Despite the video evidence Fagel presented and his technical challenges of the city and state's speed camera law, the hearing officer upheld all three speeding violations. Fagel said he believes the crew of lawyers and other officials sent to Monday's hearing is a sign that the city is concerned.
"I think the city with all the other things going on -- the Redflex bribery scandal, the Tribune story, the inspector general -- the city is quite concerned," Fagel explained.
City representatives at the hearing would not comment. The transportation department, Xerox and the Chicago law department have not yet responded to requests for comment.
Detailed coverage of Chicago motoring issues can be found at The Expired Meter and at DNAinfo Chicago.