- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2001

SAN DIEGO — A San Diego judge yesterday threw out almost 300 traffic tickets issued by automated red-light cameras, saying the city had given away too much police power to the private company that runs the devices.
"The evidence from the red light cameras will not be admitted," Judge Ronald L. Styn wrote in his brief ruling, tossing out 292 tickets written under a system with many resemblances to a red-light camera system being run in the District of Columbia.
In August, Judge Styn ruled that San Diego had surrendered almost complete control of the system to Lockheed-Martin IMS, the private company that installed the system at 19 intersections.
He said the fact that Lockheed-Martin received $70 for each person convicted of running a red light, coupled with the weak supervision by the city government, rendered the tickets "untrustworthy" as evidence in court.
The decision yesterday will not affect other similar systems, but it emboldens critics of the red-light cameras. They say this is the first major court ruling that casts doubt on the cameras, which have spread nationwide.
"I think this decision will have wide, sweeping effects not just in California but in the rest of the country, even though it is not legally binding," said Arthur Tait, one of the lawyers representing drivers challenging their tickets.
The evidence that the plaintiffs presented "has convinced us that this type of law enforcement needs either to be stopped cold or substantially modified so that the due-process rights of the citizens accused by these things are protected."
In a statement yesterday, Richard Diamond, spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey called the decision "a major victory for due process in the biggest traffic case ever."
Mr. Diamond also said the judge's findings call into question the whole system of red-light cameras.
"San Diego still faces a separate lawsuit asking for full repayment of all tickets issued by the system since it was installed, as well as a RICO lawsuit. If the evidence is 'untrustworthy' in this case, then all of the tickets it has issued are equally questionable."
The city, however, insists the program is legal.
"I'm pretty adamant," Deputy City Attorney Steven Hansen told Reuters. "The judge's decision was incorrect. The judge said that there was no problem with the camera's system. The only problem … was that a private company was operating it."
San Diego officials had tried to argue that it should be allowed to use the photos as evidence in court, even if the program did not meet all the requirements of state law. The judge firmly rejected the argument, saying this case "goes far beyond" a normal contracting out of government work on the city's part
"In this case, the failure of the city to operate the system as required by the legislature, combined with the contingent fee paid to Lockheed Martin goes far beyond" legal precedents.
Judge Styn did not invalidate San Diego's camera program entirely. In his August rulings, he said that the program is generally constitutional and legal under state law. He was, however, harshly critical of the San Diego system, pointing out particularly that Lockheed-Martin had moved the sensors that trigger the cameras in the street without even bothering to tell the city.
San Diego did, however, turn off the cameras in June after discovering that Lockheed Martin IMS had moved the sensors. Both San Diego and the District are considering changes to the program, and last week, Oxnard, Calif., officials said they will re-evaluate their system in light of the San Diego case.
The D.C. system resembles San Diego's in many of the respects criticized by Judge Styn.
Both systems are operated and set up by the same company — Lockheed Martin IMS, which is being bought out by Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services Inc.
In both the District and San Diego, Lockheed Martin issues the tickets with little or no direct oversight by the police department and the company gets a cut of every ticket issued. The company receives a fee of $70 for every $271 fine in San Diego resulting from the system. In addition, their employees install and maintain the system, review the photographs and actually print the citations for running a red light.
In the District, Lockheed Martin takes a $32.50 cut out of every $75 red-light-camera ticket and expects to make more than $44 million by the end of 2004 from the cameras, with the District taking in more than $117 million in revenue.
California is unusual among states that use red-light cameras because it chose to make the ticket a criminal violation, like a speeding ticket issued in person by a police officer. That means motorists caught by the camera get points against their driving record and the violation is reported to insurance companies.
Because the cameras shoot pictures of license plates, not drivers, most jurisdictions, including the District, make the red-light violations a civil matter, meaning the driver is only fined and does not face further punishment by the department of motor vehicles or insurance companies.
The Department of Transportation reports that there are 345 red-light cameras in use in 30 cities in 19 states. So far, 11 states — none of them near the Washington metropolitan area — have banned the cameras. There are 39 red-light cameras in the District.
Police officials told The Washington Times earlier this month that the cameras had generated more than 15,000 tickets during the first 10 days of operation, beginning Aug. 6. But police officials have not responded to requests from The Times for updated statistics on the tickets issued by the cameras.
The District also expects to have a harder time catching drivers from Maryland or Virginia, because neither state has a reciprocity agreement with the District on the speeding cameras, and lawmakers and officials from both states have said there is little chance of such a reciprocity agreement coming soon.
Nonresidents who fail to pay the District's fines could be arrested, however, if they are pulled over in the city.
In a preliminary decision two weeks ago, the California judge rejected arguments by critics who said the red-light cameras inherently violate a driver's privacy and due-process rights.
Judge Styn said then that there is "no question that there is a legitimate governmental purpose in installing red-light cameras to promote safety on highways."


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