- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2003

A D.C. Superior Court judge yesterday said he would issue a ruling by the middle of next month on a motion to dismiss a lawsuit charging that the city's traffic monitoring camera program violates the constitutional right of motorists to due process.
"This is a novel issue. I'm taking my time because I realize it's going to be appealed by one side or the other," Judge Melvin R. Wright said. "I may not believe a hearing is necessary. I may just rule after reading the motions."
The next hearing is scheduled for June 6, but Judge Wright said he would rule on the city's motion for dismissal by May 15.
The city filed the motion for dismissal, saying the lawsuit was baseless and theoretical and that the two plaintiffs a D.C. cab operator and a Howard University medical student had never been denied due process for any of their violations.
Under the camera monitoring program, vehicle owners are issued citations and fined based on photographs taken of their car's license plates as evidence of a traffic violation.
Attorneys Horace Bradshaw and Thomas Ruffin filed a class action lawsuit last summer aiming to force the city to return all the fines it has collected. The attorneys say the surveillance program violates constitutional due process rights because it forces vehicle owners to prove they weren't driving when the traffic violation was photographed.
"We're going to win, because the facts show clearly that this whole process is wrong," Mr. Ruffin said. "You're guilty until you prove you're innocent."
Though the suit filed by Mr. Bradshaw and Mr. Ruffin currently has two plaintiffs, Mr. Bradshaw said as many as 400,000 persons ultimately could take part.
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.
Judge Wright heard arguments yesterday on a motion to dismiss the case that was filed by D.C. Corporation Counsel Edward Taptich.
"I don't know what the plaintiff's case is, or what their legal position is," Mr. Taptich said. "We've got a whole lot of hullabaloo about constitutional rights, but what is the constitutional claim here?"
Mr. Ruffin argued that the traffic camera system assumes that vehicle owners are liable when a violation occurs, until they can prove they were not behind the wheel at the time. He said the burden of proof should be on the government.
Mr. Bradshaw said his clients were denied the option of meaningfully contesting tickets.
Mr. Taptich disagreed with that argument, noting that traffic citations include a form on the back where a vehicle owner may write the name and address of another person, if that person was driving the vehicle during a violation.
"Liability is not the result of a presumption of liability. It has to do with an inability to check a box within 30 days and send it back," Mr. Taptich said.

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