12/8/2017Louisiana Supreme Court Rejects Traffic Camera Challenge
High court in Louisiana tosses constitutional challenge to photo ticketing fairness on procedural grounds.
The Louisiana Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a challenge to the photo ticketing program in New Orleans. Because city officials re-wrote their ordinance and offered $28 million in ticket refunds, the high court majority felt that justice had already been served.
Five years ago, a lower court ruled> the administrative hearing process that the city used from the beginning of the program in 2008 until the 2012 decision was unconstitutional. That forced the city to change its ways, but a group of motorists decided to continue their case to the high court in the hopes of pulling the plug on the program for good. The justices found that someone else would have to bring that case.
"Although this case is technically moot, the end result is that the plaintiffs have achieved vindication of the constitutional rights for which they advocated," Justice John L. Weimer wrote in the majority opinion.
The motorist suit contended that the administrative hearing process for red light camera and speed camera tickets deprived them of due process. For instance, the city's hearing officer served simultaneously as the person prosecuting the case and the one deciding guilt.
The city dropped the tickets issued to the motorists who filed the suit so that the court would rule they no longer had standing to challenge the system. New Orleans also ordered the city attorney act as the prosecutor in all new administrative hearings.
The court majority refused to rule on whether this arrangement is constitutional or not, instead finding that someone else would have to bring that case.
"We find that there is no reasonable expectation that the city would reenact the previous scheme in a way that would justify this court presently adjudicating the constitutionality of an appellate scheme which was replaced long ago," Justice Weimer wrote. "We find that to opine on the constitutionality of the present procedures would be an exercise in speculative analysis because present procedures differ so greatly from the procedures as they existed when plaintiffs' citations were issued and that this is, thus, not a case where an exception to mootness may be found... The fact plaintiffs here were subject to possible monetary penalties for traffic citations at the time they filed their lawsuit does not vest plaintiffs with an everlasting ability to seek a declaratory judgment regarding the constitutionality of the citation review procedures."
Justice Jefferson D. Hughes III disagreed with his colleagues, explaining that the new ordinance is just as unconstitutional as the old one, as evidenced by a form that requires vehicle owners to admit they were the driver if they wish to contest the hearing.
"The intake form, which reflects the ordinance itself, provides that the 'owner or operator' is responsible for a violation, as was acknowledged at oral argument," he wrote in a dissenting opinion. "I would find this to be an unconstitutional scenario likely to be repeated and therefore not moot."
Chief Justice Bernette J. Johnson wrote separately to note that the lawsuit forced needed changes to the automated ticketing program.
"This challenge to the constitutionality of the administrative review process has resulted in a benefit for all citizens of New Orleans," she wrote in a concurring opinion.
Louisiana has a history of scandal with its automated ticketing machines. Jefferson Parish was caught allowing Redflex lobbyists to receive a 3.2 percent of the profit from each ticket. In New Orleans, the city inspector general uncovered an arrangement that allowed individual police officers to fill their own pockets with red light camera cash by "reviewing" citations while off the clock through a limited liability company.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 250k PDF file at the source link below.