Red-light cameras on trial
In an evidentiary hearing for a landmark case that may have nationwide repercussions, a San Diego judge has thrown out 290 traffic tickets issued to motorists through the cityÕs controversial red light camera system, placing the privately operated program Ñ and millions of dollars in revenue Ñ in jeopardy.
The case was brought by motorists who had been ticketed after running red lights that were monitored by video cameras. To cut down on red light running, the city had installed the cameras at 19 intersections and contracted in 1998 with Santa Ana, Calif.-based Lockhead Martin IMS to operate the system and monitor the results. Each citation carried a $271 fine, with the company receiving $70 of that.
Superior Court Judge Ronald Styn said the contingency fee paid to Lockheed Martin IMS prompted the company to issue as many citations as possible, thus compromising the evidence and making it unreliable. Lockheed Martin’s goal was “to grab as many people as they could,” plaintiff’s attorney Christopher Plourd told reporters.
The plaintiffs are arguing that the city engaged in a scheme to defraud the public. In his ruling, Styn noted that, although the state legislature passed the statute that allowed cities to use cameras targeting red-light running, it did not intend that such a system be operated by a private entity on a contingency fee basis.
Deputy City Attorney Steven Hansen said he was considering an appeal of the judge’s ruling. “I’m pretty adamant,” Hansen told reporters. “The judge’s decision was incorrect. The judge said that there was no problem with the camera’s system [except that] a private company was operating it.” Lockheed Martin IMS operates a number of similar systems across the United States and in Canada.
Styn’s ruling could have a bearing on another case filed in federal court. In that case, motorists are charging San Diego with violation of anti-racketeering statutes and asking the city to reimburse the 100,000 motorists already fined for running red lights.