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2/23/2010
Florida Court Rules Red Light Cameras Illegal
Miami-Dade County, Florida judge rules red light camera program violates state law.

Bret LusskinA Miami-Dade County Circuit Court judge has ruled that red light cameras may not be legally used to issue traffic citations in the state of Florida. Judge Gerald Bagley yesterday dismissed charges against motorist Richard Masone who had received a red light camera ticket in the mail from American Traffic Solutions (ATS). The company operates the program on behalf of the city of Aventura.

"What I'm doing is pretty much tracking the advisory opinion offered by the attorney general that tickets should be issued by a law enforcement officer who has observed the action on the part of the alleged violator running a red light," Judge Bagley ruled from the bench. "So the fact that there is not any other components, if you will, to this unmanned camera, such as an officer or any other mechanism for observing the actions of the alleged violator, I find that to be invalid. That is the reason behind my ruling. Thank you. Have a great day."

Immediately, the attorney for the city of Aventura indicated his intention to appeal the decision. Judge Bagley agreed to stay his order pending the outcome of the appeal. A formal written order in the case is forthcoming.

"As you can imagine because of the impact of the ruling on certain aspects of the program, we are going to be asking to take an appeal," attorney Michael S. Popok told the judge. "We are going to take an appeal directly to the Third. It's of great public importance."

In 2005, the state attorney general ruled that Section 316.002 of the Florida Statutes makes it illegal for a municipality "to pass or to attempt to enforce any ordinance" in conflict with the provisions of the state traffic code (view ruling). Although the state code has a provision mandating that traffic tickets be issued only by a police officer who witnessed the crime, several cities have ignored the requirement and claimed their ordinances treating red light running as a code violation were not subject to state law.

Traffic camera vendors realized that they were on unsound legal ground in Florida, but a few have seized the opportunity to dominate the market of a major state. The largest photo enforcement firm operating in the US, Australia's Redflex Traffic Systems, refused to take the gamble.

"Legal opinions indicate that automated enforcement in the state of Florida remains illegal," Redflex explained in an Australian Securities Exchange filing (pdf view statement, page 6, 1.8mb PDF). "Some competitors have proceeded at risk with early programs."

Attorney Bret Lusskin argued the successful case, having been hired by Masone to fight Aventura almost one full year ago.

"Aventura's red light program is totally illegal, and quite unfair," Lusskin said in a statement on filing the challenge. "They should have known better. In 2005, the Florida Attorney General wrote a letter publicly advising that programs like this would be illegal. They did it anyway."

Aventura and other cities are hoping the legislature adopts a photo enforcement industry-backed proposal that would retroactively forgive cities that implemented red light camera programs contrary to state law. The measure narrowly failed last session.




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