8/6/2012California: Judge Blocks Public from Voting on Red Light Cameras
Judge in Murrieta, California blocks referendum on red light camera.
A California Superior Court judge has sided with photo enforcement vendor American Traffic Solutions (ATS) in denying Murrieta voters a say in whether red light cameras can be used in their community. Judge Daniel A. Ottolia issued a minute order Friday endorsing the arguments put forth by the high-powered elections law firm of Bell, McAndrews and Hiltachk LLP. ATS will not admit it hired the the Bell to sue Murrieta resident Diana Serafin.
Serafin believes the cameras are ineffective and unconstitutional. She told TheNewspaper in previous interviews that she had no trouble collecting the required number of signatures to force an election because nearly everyone in the community wants to see the cameras go. Judge Ottolia insisted the community has no right to decide this matter.
"The court is satisfied that pre-election relief is proper where, as here, petitioner has established the clear illegality of the initiative," the minute order stated. "Real parties, on the other hand, simply ignore key statutes and case law in question."
Serafin's lawyer, Peter Lepiscopo of Pacific Justice Institute, cited the statutes that show it is not appropriate for the court to intervene in an election before it happens. Had the initiative failed, for example, there would be no case before the court. ATS has tried to block ballot measures in throughout the country because the devices have lost in all but one case. Court wins have rarely saved such programs. In Houston, Texas a federal judge with close personal ties to ATS decided to invalidate the initiative after it passed, but the persuasive power of the vote itself persuaded the city council to end photo ticketing. Here, Judge Ottolia went a step further to ensure voters never have that chance to provide input.
"The court is not required to wait until after the election simply for the sake of waiting," Ottolia wrote. "Postponing judicial resolution of petitioners challenge is not without potential cost. The the presence of an invalid measure on the ballot steals attention, time and money from valid propositions on the same ballot. It will confuse some voters and frustrate others, and an ultimate decision that the measure is invalid coming after the voters may have voted in favor of the measure tends to denigrate thee legitimate use of the initiative process."
Ottolia's ruling comes within two weeks of the deadline for finalizing Riverside County ballots. Appointed to the bench in 2010, Daniel A. Ottolia's name would have appeared on the ballot for retention, giving voters upset with his decision the option of taking away his $178,000 a year job, but no one had filed to challenge his election in time for the June 5 primary.
Serafin is also appealing for an injunction before the Court of Appeal. She declined to comment for this story on the instruction of her lawyer.
Correction: An earlier version of the article incorrectly stated Judge Ottolia was up for re-election in November. His name will not appear on the ballot.