12/21/2017Texas Appeals Court Takes On Red Light Camera Hearings
Oral arguments held in Texas Court of Appeals in case that will determine the fate of red light camera ticketing.
Attorney Russell J. Bowman is hoping to bring down red light cameras in all the Texas cities where officials have failed to comply with the law. He made his case last week to the state Court of Appeals, hoping to create precedent fom his win before a district court judge (view ruling).
Redflex, an Australian company, sent Bowman a ticket in the mail three years ago for an offense that he did not commit. In the course of fighting back, Bowman uncovered the city of Richardson's failure to comply with the provision of the Texas red light camera statute requiring cities to perform engineering studies before installing cameras.
Richardson attorney Victoria W. Thomas asked the Court of Appeals to throw out the case entirely because Bowman failed to follow the "proper" procedure. Thomas insisted that Bowman should have made his case before an administrative hearing officer hired by the city, and exhausting all of his options before bringing it to a higher court. Scott Stewart, Bowman's attorney, blamed the city for the situation, as Bowman tried to have an administrative hearing, but the city withheld the evidence he needed to make a proper defense.
"I think it's important to realize how we ended up in district court for this case," Stewart explained last week. "Mr. Bowman received a notice advising him that there was this proposed administrative hearing, and Mr. Bowman requested the engineering study from the city of Richardson, but they refused to provide it. And therefore an action was proposed in the district court to enjoin the city from proceeding until such time as he could get that. Through the discovery process we found there was no engineering study."
Texas lawmakers imposed the engineering study requirement to force cities to consider alternatives, such as longer yellow signal times, before turning to camera enforcement. Bowman eventually found that nearly every city in the state ignored this requirement.
The appellate court judges pressed Richardson's attorney regarding her insistence that a case challenging a red light camera ticket must only be heard by the hearing officer.
"Is that to say that the administrative officer in this particular scheme would have been the appropriate person to determine a constitutional perspective on the statute such as denial of the right to a jury, the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses?" the judge asked.
The city's attorney had no answer to the question of whether that, in practice, would mean ticket recipients would be prevented from ever raising constitutional issues.
The appellate judges will issue a final ruling next year.