Red-light cameras by the numbers
Fines could generate millions of dollars
COLLIER COUNTY — Looks like Collier County’s got a fight on its hands over its new red-light running cameras.
Jason Weisser, a West Palm Beach-based attorney, is filing a class action lawsuit in each of the 22 Florida municipalities that have recently installed red-light cameras or similar technology, claiming they are unconstitutional.
Weisser has five people signed up so far for Collier’s suit, which he said is “in the mail.” He expects to add more in the coming weeks. The lawsuit seeks to have the cameras deemed unconstitutional and a full refund to anyone who paid their ticket.
The county isn’t taking the lawsuit lightly.
“Yeah, they have a legitimate claim,” County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow said. “I’m not saying they have a winning claim. Ultimately it will be up to a court to determine.”
Weisser says that counties and cities have no business passing laws about red-light running, which he says is the state’s responsibility. Collier County has installed 12 cameras since early April and has issued hundreds of $125 citations.
The state does not allow red-light running cameras on state property, and the cameras used in cities and counties are not allowed to issue traffic citations. Instead, the municipalities that utilize the cameras mail out code violations to the owners of vehicles caught on camera running red lights.
That, according to Weisser, is a violation of due process because the vehicle owners are no longer “innocent until proven guilty.” Citations can be thrown out if the owner proves their vehicle was stolen at the time the red light was run, or that they received a ticket from a law enforcement officer for the same infraction.
“You’re basically guilty of the offense and you have to prove that you’re innocent,” Weisser said.
Weisser said he first became aware of the issue a couple of months back when a family member told him he received a citation in the mail for a violation that took place when he wasn’t driving.
“That was the beginning,” Weisser said.
Now he’s filing lawsuits across the state, and placing ads in local newspapers, including the Daily News and the News-Press in Fort Myers.
Weisser said that many people who receive red-light running citations in the mail — sometimes weeks after the infraction — have little, if any, recollection of the details of the alleged offense.
“If an officer sees me, I know immediately where I got the ticket,” Weisser said. “I can make a defense and I am also able to have cross examination of him to prove that I did or did not do it.”
The Florida Legislature debated legalizing red-light cameras earlier this year, but ultimately did not. The Legislature could very well address the issue again next session.
“In my mind, a substantial probability is they’ll either fail with this or the Legislature will step in and pass a statute, and that will be the end of this,” Klatzkow said.
However, if Weisser’s suit is successful, Collier County could be required to pay back the fines it has collected. That money hasn’t been spent, Klatzkow said. Instead, it is being kept in a reserve until the issue is finalized either judicially or by the Legislature.
“The purpose of this was never as a funding mechanism,” Klatzkow said.
But Weisser said the cameras mean big bucks for Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions (ATS), which provides them at no cost to most of the municipalities in question. In Collier, ATS gets: $47.50 from each of the first 89 citations per month, $27.50 from the next 60, and $17.50 from the rest.
“This is a straight revenue generator,” Weisser said.
The first two red-light running cameras in Collier County were installed in early April at the intersection of Pine Ridge Road and Airport-Pulling Road. The county then announced 10 more cameras that were set to be functioning in August.
Over the course of its three-year contract with ATS, Collier County is slated to have 24 red-light running cameras in place by February 2011.
The first hearing for people to contest a citation from a red-light running camera is set for Sept. 23, Collier County transportation spokeswoman Connie Deane said. A previous hearing slated for July and a hearing originally scheduled for Wednesday are not being held due to a lack of contested citations.
“It’s a terrible problem down here in Collier County,” Klatzkow said of red-light running. “My own perspective is the roads are much safer with these things in.”