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Washington: Court Denies Attempt to Block Public Vote on Traffic Cameras
Whatcom County, Washington Superior Court judge denies traffic camera company attempt to block Bellingham ballot initiative.

Vanessa Soriano Power
Voters in Bellingham, Washington are likely to have the final say in whether or not to continue using red light cameras and speed cameras. A Whatcom County Superior Court judge yesterday threw out the attempt by photo enforcement vendor American Traffic Solutions (ATS) to immediately block the measure from being considered. The court believes ATS has an uphill battle to prove its case.

"ATS has not demonstrated that it will suffer immediate and irreparable injury if the temporary restraining order is not granted," Judge Steven Mura ruled. "ATS's motion for a temporary restraining order is denied."

Vanessa Soriano Power, the attorney representing ATS, attempted to rush the case through the system. She served notice emailed initiative sponsor on Sunday afternoon informing the group that it was suing to stop the initiative.

"ATS seeks injunctive relief to prevent inclusion of proposed Bellingham initiative No. 2011-01 on the general election ballot on November 8, 2011," Power wrote.

The company claimed the public could not have a say on the issue because city officials signed a contract with ATS in May for the provision of automated ticketing services. Interfering with such a contract would violate the Constitution, Power said. In addition, ATS lawyers argued that the public referendum power can only be used for "legislative" purposes but the proposed initiative touched an "administrative" matter. The initiative sponsors issued a statement celebrating Judge Mura's initial skepticism of these claims.

"We are absolutely thrilled with resolving this case so quickly and 100 percent of the credit goes to the arrogance and belligerence of the red-light camera company itself," Tim Eyman, Johnny Weaver, Nick Sherwood and Alex Rion wrote. "Their actions today serve as a perfect metaphor for how they do business. They don't care about anyone but themselves."

Bellingham officials decided not to intervene either way in the lawsuit, and legal opinion on the matter has split. In Wenatchee, a Chelan County judge granted an order blocking the collection of signatures for an anti-camera ballot measure (view ruling). In Mukilteo last year, a Snohomish County Superior Court denied an attempt to block an anti-camera vote (view decision). The state supreme court's only input on the issue sided with Snohomish County (view order). The high court is expected to release a more complete decision. The anti-camera initiative sponsors argued that the attempt at forum shopping in this case backfired.

"The attorney for the powerful Seattle law firm who represents ATS traveled up to Bellingham for a one-on-one meeting with the judge where they were asking for an order shortening the time to hear the case," the sponsors wrote. "After finding out Judge Ira Uhrig, who is battling cancer, was unavailable, they bulldozed into the courtroom of Judge Charles Snyder, the chief justice, who was hearing criminal cases. He eventually booted them out of his courtroom. They then moved on to Judge Steven Mura, demanding that their motion be heard. Oh, he heard it -- and then some. He read the pleadings and decided that oral argument was unnecessary."

A further hearing will take place on August 17.

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