- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

Two D.C. lawyers have filed suit to force the city to return all fines from traffic cameras because they violate constitutional due process rights.
Thomas Ruffin Jr. and Horace L. Bradshaw Jr. filed a class action lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court against the city in the summer. The two litigators are seeking to represent the entire "class of automobile owners" ticketed since the red-light camera program began July 31, 1999, and since the photo-radar program started Aug. 6, 2001.
"There is no proof that the owner is driving the car and the only way to get out of the ticket is to submit an affidavit identifying the person who was driving your car," Mr. Ruffin said.
Motorists who receive tickets have the right to either pay the fines or request hearings through the mail.
"The issue is that the hearings are merely a formality, when you are presumed liable when you come in," Mr. Bradshaw said.
The two lawyers said the city's camera program is a civil rights violation that must not be tolerated. Tickets are issued to car owners based on photographs of the rear license plates as vehicles speed past a radar camera or run red lights at intersections.
"After a month, when you get the ticket, you may have forgotten who drove your car that day, and if you guess wrong, you could be charged with perjury," Mr. Ruffin said.
He said the city and Affiliated Computer Services Inc. have designed a system that lets the District process as many tickets as possible to keep the money rolling in.
In September, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said on WTOP Radio's "Ask the Mayor" program that the cameras were about "safety and revenue." He added, "And the way not to pay that tax is to not be speeding."
AAA Mid-Atlantic, which had been one of the leading advocates for traffic-camera use to enhance road safety, withdrew support after hearing the mayor's comments.
The District has collected $26,451,367 from radar cameras since the program began through last month, according the data available on the Metropolitan Police Department's Web site (www.mpdc.dc.gov). The city has mailed out 510,667 citations, and 356,315 motorists have paid the fines.
The red-light cameras have generated $20,983,495 for the city in nearly five years of enforcement, with 242,748 motorists having paid the fines out of 361,464 tickets issued.
The Washington Times has reported numerous instances in the past two years of motorists complaining about ticketing errors.
In Nov. 2001, The Times reported that D.C. police issued photo-radar tickets to motorists exceeding posted speed limits by as little as 2 mph, despite assurances by Chief Charles H. Ramsey that police would not "nitpick" drivers who go a few miles per hour over the limit.
That month, several residents said they received speed-camera tickets on certain roads in Southeast, but the speed limits stated on the tickets were lower than those posted on the streets. Residents also have complained about the presumption of guilt in the adjudication process since the program began.
Former Executive Assistant Metropolitan Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said in January last year that "300 or so errors" should be expected when tens of thousands of tickets are issued monthly but that would not be a "show stopper" for the program. Later that month, the city was forced to admit wrongdoing when it was found guessing license plate numbers and issuing tickets to residents who didn't own the cars in the photos.
Mr. Bradshaw, who specializes in traffic court proceedings, said he has gotten fed up trying to get people out of "bogus" camera tickets in "sham" hearings.
City officials said they are not at all concerned that the lawsuit will result in the suspension of the program.
"People have a right to question this process in the courts, but I don't think the District is engaging in any process that violates the rights of residents," said Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mr. Williams.
Studies conducted by the city and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed, on a cursory level, that the two programs have reduced speeding and red-light running, making city streets safer to travel.
Although the class action suit seeks to cover all ticketed motorists, only two parties, Emelike U. Agomo and Auto Ward Inc., are named in the suit. Both parties have received several thousand dollars in camera tickets their attorneys say were issued unfairly.
Mr. Agomo, a Houston resident, is a student at Howard University.
"He has a total of 27 tickets to date … and wasn't even in the city when these infractions occurred," Mr. Horace said.
He said Mr. Agomo left his car in the District during trips home and allowed his roommates and friends to drive the car in his absence. The tickets, however, went to his Houston address. By that time Mr. Agomo received the notices several of which appeared on the doorstep of Mr. Horace's office he had lost his right to a hearing and has been held liable for all the infractions, Mr. Horace said.
Auto Ward Inc., a fleet operations service that leases or transfers ownership of hundreds of taxicabs to local drivers, received "at least 57 different notices of infraction," Mr. Horace said.
The Washington Times has reported that in nearly every jurisdiction where automated traffic enforcement has been attacked in court, the outcomes have favored the plaintiffs.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald L. Styn in August 2001 threw out nearly 300 tickets issued by camera programs in that city and suggested that the cameras were so unreliable that the photographs could not be used as evidence.
The San Diego system was similar to that being used by the District. And as in the District, it was first operated by Lockheed Martin IMS, which sold all of its traffic-camera holdings to ACS shortly after the San Diego case concluded.
City officials in Denver suspended their program in March 2002 and dismissed all tickets after a judge ruled that the system illegally gave police powers to a private contractor. The judge also ruled that the program violated state law by appearing to compensate the contractor based on the volume of tickets issued.
The District, in April last year, amended its contract that required payments to ACS on a per-ticket basis in favor of a flat monthly fee for running the program.



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