Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Federal Judge Finds No Injury From Redflex Bribery
Motorists in Chicago, Illinois cannot cite the federal bribery charges against top Redflex officials as a way to get out of paying a red light camera ticket. US District Court Judge Amy J. St. Eve came to that tentative conclusion earlier this month after Matthew G. Falkner challenged the automated ticket he received in the mail based on a photograph of his Infiniti taken on January 19, 2013. Falkner argued that paying the fine would reward the illegal activities of Redflex. "Plaintiff argues that he has a legally protected interest in not having the city fund Redflex's wrongfully procured, above-market compensation with the proceeds of his red light ticket," Judge St. Eve wrote in her opinion. "This argument fails because the city's payments to Redflex had no effect on the fines that plaintiff (and the proposed class) paid to the city." Falkner was fined $100, an amount that has not changed since another vendor took the place of Redflex in running Chicago's 384 cameras. As a result, Falkner could not show that he had suffered any particular injury directly tied to the bribery. One co-conspirator has already entered a guilty plea in the scandal in which Redflex supplied cash and other benefits to a Chicago official in return for landing the contract that generated $500 million in citations. The court was not convinced this sweetheart deal affected Falkner because the city, not Falkner, lost on the deal. "If the city should have only paid Redflex $80 million, for example, then the city would have kept $420 million, but the proposed class would still have paid the city $500 million," Judge St. Eve reasoned. "Put slightly differently, plaintiff only alleges that the proposed class paid a fixed amount of fines to the city, of which the city distributed too much as compensation to Redflex. Plaintiff does not plead facts establishing that Reflex's alleged bribery caused plaintiff or any of the other proposed class members any injury." Falkner at first argued that Chicago violated the state's red light camera law in delegating to the Australian firm the power to declare a motorist's guilt. Redflex countered that it does not determine guilt because this function is outsourced to IBM, which performs a "second review" of all citations. Falkner then shifted to say this arrangement, allowed under the Illinois red light camera statute, violates the state constitution. "Plaintiff cannot have it both ways," Judge St. Eve wrote. "If his claim is that the city followed the statute but the statute itself is unconstitutional, he cannot argue that he has standing because Redflex bribed the city to not follow the statute." The court did not shut the door on Falkner, giving him a chance to come up with a consistent legal theory. "While the court will provide plaintiff with one more chance to amend his complaint, this will likely be plaintiff's final opportunity," Judge St. Eve concluded. "Although the court does not address defendant's additional arguments because it finds that plaintiff has not adequately pled facts to establish standing, plaintiff should consider them carefully if he chooses to file another complaint." A copy of the ruling is available in a 40k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Falkner v. Redflex (US District Court, Northern District of Illinois, 4/20/2015)
Monday, April 20, 2015
Australia, Italy: Speed Cameras Disabled
Vigilantes used black spraypaint to disable a speed camera in Western Australia on Thursday. According to the Perth Sunday Times, the automated ticketing machine on the Kwinana Freeway in Murdoch had its lens painted over and graffiti scrawled on its side. In San Gimignano, Italy, vigilantes on Saturday covered the lenses of three speed cameras. La Nazione reports that a rust-colored paint was used on the automated ticketing machines.
Friday, April 17, 2015
Virginia: Class Action Lawsuit Filed Over Toll Road Abuse
Motorists hit by massive fines on Virginia's toll roads filed suit in federal court Wednesday against the Australian company responsible for collecting the levies. Mary Elise Pizarro, a driver from Alexandria, accuses Transurban of imposing $9440 in fines when her E-Z Pass transponder failed to register $20 in tolls on the Interstate 495 high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, due to no fault of her own. "Transurban has filed thousands of lawsuits against DC area drivers in the past year alone seeking to collect exorbitant and illegal administrative fees and civil penalties," attorney James Pizzirusso said in a statement. "Area drivers are finally standing up to Transurban's bullying tactics." The suit alleges that the imposition of fines is intentionally excessive to make up for a shortfall in revenue. The Beltway HOT lanes have flopped, losing $51 million in 2013. Last year, Transurban generated additional cash by filing 26,000 lawsuits for unpaid tolls, some of which were caused by the failure of Transurban's own equipment. "Inadvertent missed tolls can happen to anyone, whether because the toll gate malfunctions, or because an E-Z Pass battery dies," attorney Jeffrey Kaliel explained. "When that happens, everyone agrees the driver should pay the missed toll. But this private toll-road operator must not be allowed to ruin a driver's finances with thousands of dollars in devastating fees and penalties for a $1 or $2 toll." Transurban has been imposing an "administrative penalty" of up to $1000 for each missed toll. Under this scheme, $50 in missing tolls becomes a $31,000 fine; $36 in unpaid tolls becomes $17,000. Transurban accused Jo-Ann Brown, for example, of not paying $4.95 in tolls and charged her $3413. Michele Osborne was accused of skipping four tolls, though she had a valid transponder and account, for which she was charged $2293. Both motorists had a valid E-Z Pass that is linked to her credit card, but some form of equipment malfunction prevented the transponder from registering the transaction. The suit contends that Virginia law does not authorize these stiff penalties, and that non-lawyers are sent out to settle these automated lawsuits out of court on terms favorable to Transurban. "The HOT lanes operator may impose and collect an administrative fee in addition to the unpaid toll so as to recover the expenses of collecting the unpaid toll, which administrative fee shall be reasonably related to the actual cost of collecting the unpaid toll and not exceed $100 per violation," Virginia Code Section 33.2-503 states. The suit charges Transurban with violating federal and state debt collection laws and the Eighth Amendment protection against excessive fines. It seeks a refund for all the penalties Transurban has imposed.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
Idaho Limits Forced Blood Draws From Motorists
If a motorist withdraws his consent to a blood test, a police officer may not take it by force under a ruling last week by the Idaho Court of Appeals. A divided three-judge panel decided that the blood evidence used against Brant Lee Eversole should have been suppressed. Eversole was drunk when a local sheriff's deputy caught him sitting behind the wheel of a truck in front of a bar. Yet Eversole could not have driven the truck because it was high-sided on a brick berm with the drive wheels lifted off the pavement. Two other men were trying to use a jack to free the vehicle, but they had next to no chance of succeeding. The police officer at the scene called their effort "feeble." The truck had to be towed away. The deputy smelled Eversole's breath and had him take a sobriety tests. He flunked several before refusing to take any more. Eversole was arrested and taken to Bingham Memorial Hospital where his blood was removed and the blood alcohol content measured at .27, or triple the legal limit. Eversole was convicted, but he appealed on the grounds that he was not driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) because his truck could not be driven. His argument failed. "The district court correctly determined that the fact-finder could sensibly conclude that Eversole and his companions were capable of rendering the vehicle operational in a short period of time," Judge Karen L. Lansing wrote for the court. "A finder of fact could have credited the officer's testimony that the jack strategy could have worked if the jack was positioned 'a little bit differently.' Therefore, the issue should be decided by the trier of fact and the order denying dismissal was proper." The appellate judges did have a problem with the trial judge's other assumption that the state's implied consent statute eliminated the need for the police officer to apply for a warrant before taking Eversole's blood. Idaho has recently been forced to reinterpret its laws in light of the US Supreme Court's McNeely decision (view case) scaling back forced blood draws. "In this case, Eversole refused to participate in a breath test for alcohol concentration," Judge Lansing wrote. "He thereby withdrew any implied consent created by [the implied consent statute]... Because Eversole’s implied consent already had been revoked, the consent exception to the warrant requirement was inapplicable unless the state proved some subsequent action or statement by Eversole renewing his consent. The state did not do so." A copy of the decision is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Idaho v. Eversole (Court of Appeals, State of Idaho, 4/8/2015)
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Missouri Supreme Court Considers Speed Trap Law
Small towns throughout Missouri want their traffic ticket revenue back. Since 2013, the state has restricted the ability of municipalities to pad budgets with citation revenue. The Municipal League last week argued before the state Supreme Court about their fundamental right to generate more than thirty percent of revenue from speeding tickets. Under the "Mack's Creek" law, cities that exceed the thirty percent cap must send excess revenue back to the state for use in school programs. Any city that fails to file regular reports and remit the money in a timely fashion has its municipal court stripped of the ability to hear traffic cases. The state attorney general has aggressively enforced this provision, which infuriates the cities. "It's our belief that this violates the separation of power," powerful lawyer and lobbyist Jane E. Dueker said on behalf of the league. "To say that a court cannot hear something falls in line with what happened in the Weinstein case, which is basically no judge anywhere can hear this case at this time." The Municipal League believes cities have the inalienable right to generate as much ticket revenue as they please. "We have a legally protected interest to have a court hear them," Dueker explained. "And this is taking it away from potentially all courts. The separation of powers violation has infringed on our protectable interest to have violations heard in a court." The league argued that cities that fail to closely monitor all spending might never know if they have the ability to issue tickets on a day to day basis. "A municipality in good faith files its report, but if they're a dollar off, they lose jurisdiction," Dueker explained. "That's how crazy the statute is. So day-to-day they don't know if they have jurisdiction." Ronald R. Holliger, senior counsel for the state attorney general, dismissed Dueker's hypoteticals as pure speculation. He insisted the Municipal League lacked standing to bring the suit. Last year, the group Better Together St. Louis produced a report arguing that the Mack's Creek law does not go far enough to stop the abuse of law enforcement for the purpose of revenue generation (view report).