12/16/2010South Carolina: Legal Challenge to Renegade Speed Trap Town
Lawyers planning class action challenge to Ridgeland, South Carolina freeway speed camera program.
Class action attorneys have set their sights on a South Carolina town that set up a freeway speed camera in defiance of state law. Since August, the town of Ridgeland has allowed the private company iTraffic to operate a speed camera system to mail tickets worth $133 to $300 each to the owners of vehicles photographed as they pass through a tiny stretch of Interstate 95. The fully automated system is housed in a recreational vehicle that is usually concealed behind a bridge. When state legislators heard of the town's plan, they unanimously enacted a law to prohibit the use of speed cameras (view law).
"We have been told by some of the top legal minds in the state that statute don't have anything to do with us, so that's why we're continuing with the program," Ridgeland Mayor Gary W. Hodges said at a press conference earlier this month.
Hodges did not identify the "top legal minds," but it did not include state's chief legal authority, Attorney General Henry McMaster, who issued two opinions finding that Ridgeland had no authority to use speed cameras or mail citations (view opinions). As the town of 2500 has already issued around 4000 tickets worth at least $533,000, Hodges has a significant incentive to keep the program running for as long as possible. He argues that having a police officer paid by iTraffic sitting in the RV constitutes legally permissible "operation" of a speed detection machine. Attorney Pete Strom is not convinced and wants to hear from ticket recipients in anticipation of a lawsuit that would, if successful, end the program.
"The Strom Law Firm is currently investigating the legality of this issue," Strom wrote. "We have issued a Freedom of Information Act request in an effort to discover exactly what the relationship between iTraffic and the city is and how the money is being collected and distributed between the town of Ridgeland and the state of South Carolina."
Another attorney, Ray Lord, has also expressed interest in filing suit. If Lord and Strom are right, it could prove costly for the town. Last year, a federal judge ordered Minneapolis, Minnesota to issue $2.6 million in refunds to motorists who received tickets in the mail from a red light camera program that lacked state legal authority (view decision). The controversy has upset Hodges, but he vowed to defend the iTraffic program fully.
"We're quite bitter over here," Hodges said. "We've been pounded over and over... We're going to stand up and fight."