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Red-Light Cameras Draw Class-Action Lawsuit Citing Constitutional Violations

| October 28, 2011

You can't put a spy camera on the stand. (© FlaglerLive)

As Florida lawmakers gear up for another debate about red-light cameras, a Brevard County citation has led to a class-action lawsuit about the constitutionality of the devices.

The lawsuit focuses on red-light cameras in Cocoa Beach. But Melbourne attorney Stephen Koons said it also challenges the constitutionality of a 2010 state law that has led to cameras popping up across Florida.

“I think the hammer’s about to fall — that’s my opinion,” Koons said.

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Palm Coast has spy-and-snap cameras at six locations, generating $1.35 million in fines since cameras were first installed in 2008 by its contractor, American Traffic Solutions, which has itself cashed in on more than half a million dollars. Since a state law went into effect in 2010 regulating all spy-and-snap fines, requiring a universal fine of $158 and requiring a share for the state, the state has cashed in on more than a quarter million dollars from Palm Coast. In this region, the devices have also been installed in Daytona Beach, Holly Hill and DeLand.

Koons has represented Cocoa Beach resident Mary Lombardo in a months-long legal fight stemming from a $158 citation she received in September 2010. He filed the class action this month in Brevard County circuit court, though Cocoa Beach last week requested that the case be moved to federal court in Orlando. Koons said he hopes to keep the issue in state court. If the matter is federalized, the outcome would apply to Palm Coast.

“If the federal judge declares the red-light cameras unconstitutional, then it would affect every red-light camera ticket that’s been paid in the state of Florida,” Koons said, and may have to lead to the reimbursement of every ticket paid. Local governments claim that motorists who have already paid the fines did so voluntarily, and therefore should not be reimbursed. “Our position is that you voluntarily can’t pay something that’s unconstitutional,” Koons said.

The cameras are a controversial issue in communities throughout Florida and in the Legislature. They snap images of motorists who don’t stop at red lights, starting the process of citations being issued.

Lawmakers in 2010 passed a law that approved and set standards for the use of cameras. But this spring, a legislative debate broke out about trying to repeal the law — a debate that already shows signs of flaring again in 2012.

Supporters argue that the cameras help prevent traffic accidents, particularly at busy intersections. Also, the citations provide money to local governments, which typically split revenue with private vendors that install and operate cameras.

“The reason this statute was put in place was for revenue generation. Doesn’t have anything to do with safety,” Koons says. To the contrary: in some cases, as in Cocoa Beach, yellow timers were shorter than state recommendations, meaning that the reaction time is shortened at intersections, and accidents–and citations–increase. Municipalities intent on reducing accidents and improving safety at intersections lengthen yellow times in traffic lights. But that would reduce the number of citations, and therefore profits. “I have no sympathy for all those municipalities that claim they’re cash-strapped,” Koons said.

The lawsuit contends, in part, that the state law and a Cocoa Beach ordinance are unconstitutional because people who dispute red-light citations do not have the ability to cross-examine witnesses. That is because cameras, as opposed to police officers, are the sources of the citations.

Also, it contends that the law and ordinance are unconstitutional because motorists have to forfeit their right to remain silent if they hope to fight the citation. Disputes could arise, for example, if the owner of a vehicle receives a citation but was not the actual driver of the car at the time of the red-light violation.

An attorney for the city of Cocoa Beach and a spokesman for vendor American Traffic Solutions Inc. could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

But on its city website, Cocoa Beach says the cameras are a way to increase law enforcement in more locations.

“As a tourist destination, Cocoa Beach has more vehicular and pedestrian traffic than many other communities,” the website says. “The mixture of cars and people increases the chances that a mishap can result in a serious injury of worse. It also underscores the importance of compliance with traffic regulations.”

Koons initially filed a lawsuit in April seeking an injunction. But Cocoa Beach successfully argued that Lombardo could not challenge the cameras because she had already voluntarily paid the fine.

That led to the attorney filing an amended complaint this month, with Lombardo as a named plaintiff in a class action. The lawsuit seeks reimbursement for motorists who have received fines because of the Cocoa Beach traffic cameras.

Koons has fought some 100 red-light camera tickets and never lost a single one, he says.

–FlaglerLive and the News Service of Florida

22 Responses for “Red-Light Cameras Draw Class-Action Lawsuit Citing Constitutional Violations”

  1. Charles Ericksen, Jr says:

    This morning’s early AM ( 7:50) accident at Easthampton and Belle Terre, involving up to 8 vehicles was most likely due to wet conditions, speed and the redlight camera. The lead vehicle stopped. , while the others did not. No visible injuries, but lots of minor damage to most, with one, which had to be towed.

  2. tulip says:

    Why is it that people and lawmakers are so eager to defend violaters rights? If you run a red light–pay up. It;s the driver’s choice whether to run it or not.

    What about the person who was shoplifting, or the bank robber, etc? After all, the camera caught them too. A person can’t go anywhere these days without some kind of camera around–why not get rid of them all for the same reason?

    If a loved one or friend of a “camera hater” was hurt or killed by a red light runner, I bet that “camera hater” would think differently when the violator was caught and prosecuted because the camera caught him or her.

    I have lived in Palm Coast for 14 years. When I first moved here, it was treacherous driving and that was when there were only around 30,000 people. Almost every day there were accidents, and if you were at an intersection with traffic lights, you looked both ways twice because quite often there was a jackass driver who would run the red light.

    Since we’ve had the cameras, driving has been mostly pleasurable, even with the increase in population. If driver wants to run a red light and put other innocent people in danger, then that person should pay. If the driver doesn’t own the car, then the owner of the car should never let them drive it again, or get the ticket money from that person. Palm Coast makes money off the cameras and that money goes to fixing roads, taking care of safety hazards, etc.–money well spent and doesn’t cost the innocent taxpayers anything.

    • Dick says:

      What if you get a citation for running a red light and it was not you? For example, another family member and you don’t even know which one, as in my case. It is the state’s burden of proof to prove WHO WAS ACTUALLY DRIVING THAT CAR. I will challenge that citation in court. I will also curtail spending in Cocoa Beach. The camera on A1A and S. Shepard should be illegal because you cannot see the red light when you turn left from Sunrise Bank and go south on A1A. Impossible unless you have your nose up by the rear view mirror IMMEDIATELY after turning. It’s trickery and ALL ABOUT $$$$. Safety?, BS

  3. rh says:

    Another example of too many lawyers and too much time on their hands.. We have enough radicals like the ACLU to these worthless issues going. I think the Red Light cameras MUST stay to avoid some the idiots the have to get somewere fast so can wait at the next light..

  4. Sad Times says:

    My goodness, Mr. Ericksen … what type of driver are you? If you are behind a driver, it is your responsibility to drive in a safe manner…. making sure you are leaving enough space between you and the car in front of you… and, of course, just paying attention to your driving in general…. what my father used to call it…. driving in a defensive manner. How on earth can you say that the driver should have run the red light? Makes no sense to me.

  5. ilikemytazer says:

    the cameras are unconstitutional–the judge will agree im sure

  6. JustPlainWrong says:

    These camera’s have only INCREASED the number of accidents and gave more money to the POCKETS of the local political thieves. These lights are unconstitutional and should be removed. The previous comments last statement “Palm Coast makes money off the cameras and that money goes to fixing roads, taking care of safety hazards, etc.–money well spent and doesn’t cost the innocent taxpayers anything. ” could be no farther from the truth. The monies ROBBED from the public from these camera’s DO NOT fix the roads or take care of safety hazards. And it just cost the”inncocent taxpayer triple the amount. And WHO is paying for all the inmates cutting grass and landscapping around this county ? And WHO is getting the monies from that FREE labor that should be given to a taxpaying citizens who needs a job ?

    • Danny says:

      The sad part is that most of the $$$ stolen from the citizens pockets goes to a PRIVATE business in ANOTHER STATE!!! How is this legal??? $158.00 and if you don’t pay within 30 days it almost doubles!!!
      Up north I lived in one of the most expensive county in the country, red light tickets were $75.00 speed camera tickest were $40.00 and you have 90 days to pay it. Florida law makers expet us to pay double in half the time so they go ahead an double the fine. ITS ENTRAPTMENT AND UNCONSTITUTIONAL


  7. M&M says:

    We need these cameras. Any people & lawmakers defending violaters are pure idiots.

    • cindy says:

      I need one of those idiots to defend me, I got a red light camera ticket, and I was making a rt turn, which I always thought were legal in Fl

      • Leslie says:

        Did you ever resolve your violation? I recently got hit with one of these making a right turn. I am certain I saw no oncoming traffic at the time. I am a defensive driver and saw no harm in the matter.
        If you fought it, I’d like to know your lawyer’s name!
        Is there a class action suit in progress over this?

  8. Binkey says:

    I think the contract the city has with the camera provider might be interesting. I read on a national online paper that a lot of the contracts have special provisions like how long yellow lights can be and such.

  9. Bill McGuire says:

    Sad Times: I read Mr. Ericksen’s post several times and can’t find where he had recommended that the first driver should run the red light. Every day I see drivers making right turns on red lights that don’t even slow down, let alone stop, before making their turn. Defensive driving has gone out the window in favor of “Me first” driving.

  10. Phoenix568 says:

    When are all you camera proponents going to see that you are enabling “BIG BROTHER” to intrude further
    into our lives??????? The point here is not about traffic citations it is what the cameras represent. Don’t be useful idiots. We are NOW ON THAT “SLIPPERY SLOPE”.

  11. PJ says:

    I said this once before:
    1) Red light cameras only work when you have the collision avoidance system. This simple feature holds the light green until the intersection is clear then and only then does the camera takes the picture. At that point if you got the camera to go off, your in violation. You don’t have to be a supreme court judge to agree here.

    2) once again the City Council receive bad information from staff and the city manager who ever that was at the time that led the council to believe it was a good idea. They just missed the memo on the hold and delay feature I guess.

    3) The cameras can work if they I’m prove the signage with a few more signs ahead of the light.It may not surprise our valued visitors.

    4) Force the company that sells the system to put the delay avoidance system at no cost or take your cameras out of here.

    5) read end collissions are up in most areas that have these lights.

    6) They take away from the quality of life because you have to worry about a stale green light that may change quickly. GOOD BYE RED LIGHT CAMERAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! CAN’T WAIT!!!!!!

  12. says:

    too many hands in the kettle grabbing the money maker. the state should not get a piece of the action. the city should get a good chunk of it and than the rest to the vendor.

  13. rh says:

    All you people opposing the cameras have more then likely been ticketed.. Another reason to keep them so people like you may learn the lesson they’re intended for..

  14. pJ says:

    Hey RH it’s simple keep the cameras just add signs and warnings and put the avoidance system in. speak up tell the city to change their way stop complaining about the commentators put your comment to good use.

  15. w.ryan says:

    Why don’t we just let the government put sensors in all of our cars so that we could punish all those irresponsible drivers who speed. Five miles over the speed limit and they get one. When those a-holes who break the law and speed we fine them a hefty fee so that we’re all safe from those violators. Speeding causes accidents and many people die as a result you know!!! The government does everything to keep us safe. We could do the same for red light violators too. Oh…then we could do something about those folks who pick their noses. Lets fine them and charge them for a misdemeanor. They will never pick theirs noses again!!!

  16. Stan says:

    since 2008 1.35 million gross in fines, for 6 camera locations and a company gets 1/2 million share for supply and and maintenance.
    I bet that contract was not up for bids!!

  17. more rules are't the answer says:

    I think that one solution to the driving problems in Palm Coast is for everyone moving here from New York or New Jersey should have to be taught how to drive properly. i.e. – maintain a minimum speed, drive in the correct lane, use your turn signals etc.

  18. PJ says:

    Hey more rule are’t the answer- you not being fair. if you ever lived in the greater NY area you have to drive like WE do and down here WE drive the same sometimes not on purpose but out of habit.

    I’ll be the first to admit it but we seem reckless.

    I can say that folks from NY say the same stuff about the Jersey drivers and they say the same about NY.

    Just for an FYI. Palm Coast is considered by most as the sixth borough. (a borough an adminisrative divison that designates a self governing township) hence Palm Coast the 6th Boro.
    You my friend may want to move out to Patlatka………………………..

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