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MIAMI — In a ruling that could have implications for other municipalities such as Collier County, a judge ruled Monday that the city of Aventura cannot use cameras to catch red-light runners.
The city can appeal the ruling by Circuit Court Judge Jerald Bagley in Miami-Dade County, and the judge’s decision has no bearing on other cities nor did it invalidate the constitutionality of red-light programs.
But if it stays in force, the ruling could set a legal precedent that could be used in suits against red-light camera programs in other cities.
The suit challenging the legality of the program was filed by Hallandale Beach resident Richard Masone. His lawyer, Bret Lusskin of the firm Ticket Cricket, argued that state law specifies that only the state Legislature can pass traffic laws, while cities can only regulate traffic issues of local concern, such as parking.
In Collier County, there are three lawsuits challenging the county’s red-light ordinance. A class-action lawsuit was filed in October by West Palm Beach attorney Jason Weisser on behalf of two drivers ticketed in Collier, Bennett Cinquigrana and Rita C. Siegel; the lawsuit hasn’t yet been certified to proceed as a class-action case.
Weisser could not be reached for comment after Monday’s ruling.
Sebouh Gourjian, a Collier County criminal defense attorney, also filed an administrative appeal to fight the ordinance on behalf of all drivers in the county and to fight his ticket, for turning right on a red light.
Collier Circuit Judge Cynthia Ellis denied it due to a technicality, allowing him to refile it. Neither Gourjian, who intends to refile his appeal, nor Collier County attorney Jeffrey A. Klatzkow were available for comment Monday afternoon.
On the east coast, cities, like Aventura, Miami Beach, Pembroke Pines and others, have used cameras to cite red-light runners with a code violation, instead of a traffic violation. Lusskin argued that was merely a way of circumventing the state law and that cities could only issue tickets to red-light runners if an officer is present.
In his ruling Monday morning, Bagley sided with Lusskin and granted his motion for summary judgment against Aventura.
Masone, who was issued two tickets in January 2009, said he felt vindicated by the ruling and that he had hoped it would be used in cases against other cities.
“It’s a revenue thing that they’re doing and I think it’s unfair for the people,” he said.
Michael S. Popok, the lawyer representing Aventura, said the judge’s ruling only addressed whether or not cities can issue fines based on the red-light cameras and not the presence of the cameras themselves or the program.
The state charter says that cities have the power to use “security devices” to “regulate” what occurs on the roadways, and the issue, according to Popok, is whether or not the word “regulate” gives cities the authority to issue fines.
“If the city decides to appeal, that’s the issue we’re going to take up in our appeal,” Popok said.
The judge did not issue an injunction against the program as part of his ruling, so it can continue to operate while the city decides whether or not to file an appeal.
Aventura has yet to issue a statement about its plans for the program, or any possible appeal.
Cities have been pushing lawmakers in Tallahassee to change the state law to give municipalities clearer authority to establish red-light programs. Lusskin said he hopes residents reach out to their state representatives to oppose any such legislation.
“We’ve reached Orwellian territory with these cameras,” he said. “Now is the time for people to become aware of these cameras and voice their disapproval.”