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Class Action Lawsuit Takes On Alabama Red Light Cameras
Lawsuit alleges Phenix City, Alabama entered into an unconstitutional photo ticketing arrangement to raise revenue.

Phenix City
Officials in Phenix City, Alabama were served with a federal lawsuit last week claiming the city's red light cameras are violating the civil rights of motorists passing through the town. The suit focuses on what a driver can do in response to a ticket received in the mail from Redflex Traffic Systems, the Australian firm that has been issuing tickets at three intersections since 2013.

"The option for a hearing is simply stated on a coupon that can be sent to the city," attorney George W. Walker III explained in the complaint. "No information is provided as to how the hearing is conducted or who conducts it, nor is there any information on what plaintiffs and class members' rights are following a violation. Instead, a notice inconspicuously states that plaintiff and class members can request a hearing within a specific timeframe."

There is no statewide law authorizing red light camera or speed camera use in Alabama. Instead, Brantley, Midfield, Montgomery, Opelika, Phenix City, Selma and Tuscaloosa had the state legislature enact separate local laws granting individual permission to each jurisdiction for camera use (the legislature revoked Montgomery's permission last year). The individual laws make passing reference to the standard of proof to be used at hearings where photo tickets are contested.

"The prosecution of a civil violation created hereby shall carry reduced evidentiary requirements and burden of proof," states House Bill 575, enacted in 2012, granting Phenix City permission to use cameras.

Walker argues that the reduced burden of proof established by the local law violates the constitution. It fails, he argues, to afford any real due process. The ordinance, for instance, does not require the city to bring proof at the hearing that the camera system was functioning at the time of the alleged offense.

"The 'hearing' option itself afforded by defendant Phenix City is ultimately a sham procedure that fails to amount to anything other than said administrator, who in reality is neither a lawyer nor a judicial officer, viewing a computer screen in an office," Walker contended. "The 'hearings' are simply a redundant look at what the city already decided. The city is not an administrative agency that is empowered by Alabama law with the ability to judicially review its own decisions... It is clear that there are no 'witnesses' or contractors from defendant Redflex present at the hearings, and plaintiffs and class members had no opportunity to challenge anything."

US District Judge William Keith Watkins has been assigned to the case. The city must answer the lawsuit by March 6.

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