Legal Technicality Forces Houston To Turn Its Redlight Cameras Back On, Even Though It Wants Them Off

from the locked-in dept

Back in November, we noted that residents of Houston, Texas has voted to kill the city's redlight camera program. At the time we pointed out one tiny complication: the city had a contract with the vendor that didn't run out for another four years. However, it looks like the city just decided to listen to the will of the people (contracts be damned) and turned off the cameras. The vendor, ATS, sued. Now, samkash alerts us to the news that the city has lost a court ruling and is rushing to turn the cameras back on. The whole thing sounds like a bit of a technicality, though. As far as I can tell, the judge had originally rejected the plan to turn off the cameras, saying that the referendum itself, to repeal the law authorizing the cameras, had to happen within 30 days of it being passed. It did not. Thus, the judge found the referendum invalid. That actually happened back in June. The latest is that the city asked the judge if it could appeal his ruling, and the judge said no. I don't fully understand all the details here, but the city seems to be claiming that the rejection is actually helpful to them, in that it gets them to a final decision sooner, which they can appeal. Either way, the city says that it's turning the cameras back on, not because it wants to (though, they do appear to be making money), but because it wants to minimize the liability if it's found that they have to keep the contract.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Spaceboy (profile), Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:09am

    If they don't want the cameras and are forced to turn them back on, can't they just not send out tickets of violators?

     

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  2.  
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    Marcel de Jong (profile), Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:11am

    That's a nice and convenient loophole

    "Oh, we want to turn them off, but we can't."

    It smells dodgy to me.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Dan C, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:15am

    Red Light Tickets

    Those who get tickets should sue the camera company for taking and using their photos publically without an image release.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:16am

    Um, it's a contract. If a contract says you have cameras, you have cameras.

     

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  5.  
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    DannyB (profile), Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:16am

    Right to face accuser

    If the camera company is the accuser, then maybe they should be dragged into court?

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Sean Flaim, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:17am

    Seems like the contract for the cameras has a percentage of each of the tickets being kicked back to the camera manufacturer.

    Great to know that a local government is ok with that. Why not next they kick back ticket revenue to patrol officers...

     

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  7.  
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    DannyB (profile), Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:17am

    Liability for decreased safety

    If the camera company is forcing the city to turn on cameras against its will, and it is well known that the cameras decrease safety, then shouldn't the camera company (not the city) have the liability for the results of the decreased safety?

     

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  8.  
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    E. Zachary Knight (profile), Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:25am

    Re:

    Are you not familiar with how these camera's work? They work exactly how you describe. The camera contractor processes all the photos, sends them to the police department. the Police Department sends out the tickets, the people pay, the police gives a percentage of the fine to the camera contractor as a commission on the work.

    It is all quite clever. Makes a ton of money for the police department and the contractor. The police are happy because they get money without having to have boots on the ground. The camera contractor is happy because they get money from the suffering of others. Only the tax paying people are unhappy because they have a huge increase in the number of fines issued each year.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:26am

    Re: Red Light Tickets

    Interesting idea, although presumably the pictures are of just their cars and/or license plates and not of the drivers or passengers.

     

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  10.  
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    sheenyglass, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:29am

    Less a technicality...

    ...and more a inconsequentiality.

    It looks like the judge denied a request for an interlocutory appeal, which is an appeal of a ruling within a proceeding rather than an appeal of the final disposition at the end of the proceeding. Interlocutory appeals are generally permissive (meaning you have to ask for permission) while appeals of the final disposition are as of right.

    I'm assuming the vendor sued and alleged that 1) the referendum was improper and 2) that the city's breached its contract with the vendor. The judge issued a ruling on the first question, but the issue of contractual liability remains undecided. It looks like the city is claiming to have requested the interlocutory appeal to defend the voters' decision - possibly more symbolic than strategic.

    The appeal at the end of the proceeding would address all constituent parts, including the question of the referendum's legitimacy and the question of contractual liability. So really, this decision just means the appeals court will address this issue later.

     

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  11.  
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    Canadian Observer, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:30am

    Here is a Solution

    Why doesn't the city change their traffic bylaw to decrease camera related offences to $1.00. That'll greatly decrease the desire of the camera company to pursue this any further.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:31am

    I applaud the local government for trying to represent their people. But getting out of a contract based on residents disdain won't hold up.

    The government is going to pay for those cameras one way or another (and by government I mean taxpayers). Either they can use the cameras and them pay let the cameras pay the contractor, or they can grab money from somewhere else to fulfill their end of the contract.

    Either way the taxpayers lose.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:36am

    I believe most red light cams capture pics of the driver as well.

    Personall I hate red light runners, but cams seem to cause more harm than good. Seemed like a good idea when they first came out, now not so much.

     

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  14.  
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    Donnicton, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:37am

    Does the contract have to say the cameras have to actually be doing something, or do they just have to be left turned on even though they are never used, like my old VHS player?

     

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  15.  
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    Richard (profile), Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:46am

    Re:

    Just set the violation threshold so broad that it never issues a ticket.

    Or, alternatively, find something dodgy (like corruption) in the contract and get out of it that way.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Marcel de Jong (profile), Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:47am

    Re:

    No, because that'd be against the law. :)

     

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  17.  
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    DannyB (profile), Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:47am

    Re:

    Interesting about the profit motive. That should tie nicely into my liability post below. In short: camera company should have liability for well known fact that the cameras decrease safety when an accident is caused. Can't wait for a judge to see decreasing safety for profit.

    If the camera company doesn't get the profits, when where should they go? Otherwise this money would just disappear from the economy. Idea! Give it to a deserving crowd like the RIAA / MPAA who are entitled to profits, but are suffering due to piracy! There must be some connection between piracy and speeding. Oh wait, it is the non speeders who would now be depriving the entitled industries of their rightful money.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Bentley, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:47am

    Simple solution is for the local City Traffic Court to automatically void all citations issued from the active camera system.

    The local court is fully justified in doing so... because the legal basis for those camera citations is in formal dispute in higher courts-- therefore, there is NO current legal authority to convict motorists by that alleged camera "evidence".

    This solution bypasses all contractual issues with the camera company, does not directly concern the state/federal courts, and can be handled completely by the city government.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Bob Tinker, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:50am

    Houston's camera contract

    See http://www.thenewspaper.com for a full airing of this issue. In essence: Houston needs (wants) the money and the people don't want traffic cameras. The people voted the cameras out. Houston's lawyers DELIBERATELY wrote the camera contract so that Houston couldn't cancel for ANY reason without enormous financial penalties. So, the taxpayers get soaked. The politicians and the lawyers should be in jail but the best second choice is to vote the thugs out of office.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    NullOp, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:51am

    Red Lights

    Seems to me the city should turn off the cameras and pay the contract. After all cities are GREAT at wasting money!

     

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  21.  
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    Krusty, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:54am

    Re:

    My guess would be the vendor gets a percentage of the revenue.

     

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  22.  
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    Haywood (profile), Jul 12th, 2011 @ 7:55am

    Re: Re:

    Where is Denny Crane when you need him?

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 8:08am

    Re:

    Are you admitting that you may have been wrong? I've never seen anyone do that before. Are you ill?

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 8:11am

    Re:

    For those of you playing from home, it's the contractor who sends a bill on behalf of the city, it's not a real ticket, it doesn't go on your record.

    It's just a third party saying "hey, we caught you doing wrong, pay us to shut up and we'll give the city a small portion of the bribe".

    You are under no obligation to make payment, and there is no repercussion to not doing so.

     

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  25.  
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    Lion XL (profile), Jul 12th, 2011 @ 9:04am

    Re: Re:

    you went left there a little, it is a real ticket (at least in NYC it is) and it does go on your record.

    But, you are correct in that the company earns revenue for sending the the 'information' to the MVC (or DMV) for review before being issued to the violator.

    At least that how it was supposed to happen, except in NY they skipped the review part and just send out bad tickets, like when there police directing you through the red light because it broken.

     

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  26.  
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    Derek Kerton (profile), Jul 12th, 2011 @ 9:55am

    Re: Re:

    Your guess is correct.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 9:57am

    Re: Red Light Tickets

    Public place, no expectation of privacy, and no image release required.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    Derek Kerton (profile), Jul 12th, 2011 @ 10:01am

    Re: That's a nice and convenient loophole

    No. Figure that the way these things are installed is by the vendor, and the vendor does so with the understanding that they get a cut of the fines.

    The vendor, thus, has a contract with the city to actually use the cameras and share ticket revenue. The contract probably stipulates that the cameras must be active for some minimum amount of years -- much like the way Verizon will subsidize and give you a cell phone with a contract that you use it for 24 months.

     

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  29.  
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    Romeosidvicious (profile), Jul 12th, 2011 @ 10:12am

    Re: Re: Re:

    In Houston it is a separate law than if an officer stops you from running a red light. It is a civil offence and not a criminal offence, does not go on your driving record, and they are required to state that they cannot arrest you for non-payment when they send out the "ticket". In essence all that happens if you don't pay is a mark on your credit rating and annoying phone calls from bill collectors.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 10:31am

    Re: Re: Re:

    But that's Spaceboy's point. If the only requirement by the contract is to have the camera on and in place, they may not be obligated to ticket. Since I presume whatever cut they get is derived from the traffic ticket, maybe they will drop the whole thing if they can't get the money anyway.

     

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  31.  
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    Viln (profile), Jul 12th, 2011 @ 10:43am

    Once again...

    Of all the sneaky underhanded ways that city governments rob their citizens, this is one of the most obvious and direct... and I am continuous amazed at the general apathy of the population in letting these things get approved by politicians that allegedly answer to voters.

    If I'm amazed people let them get away with these Yellow Light Cameras... I am downright ASTOUNDED the media does not persecute them for the nature of the contract.... giving a company a commission for fines, and then expecting them to operate in the best interest of the city/state? Why is it necessary for them to receive a cut of the profits, as opposed to a flat fee for equipment and a recurring fee for operation and servicing?

     

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  32.  
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    The Incoherent One (profile), Jul 12th, 2011 @ 10:50am

    Re: Re: Red Light Tickets

    Being on the receiving end of one of these types of tickets the cameras are actually really good at what they do. My ticket came in the mail and sure enough there was no denying that it was me behind the wheel. You could make out the Quicksilver shirt and my friends UH hat.

    Side Note: I remember the ticket that well cause it was for 90 in a 35 and was 480.00 + summons.

     

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  33.  
    identicon
    PRMan, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 11:45am

    Why not?

    Why don't the residents of Houston set up a "destroy a red-light camera day"? Everyone has guns there, right? Just take them out from a block away with a rifle and no more cameras or tickets.

    As part of it, make sure you educate everyone about "Jury Nullification" while you are making the announcement.

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 12:05pm

    How about people just don't run red light's endangering everyone else and no one would get a fine?

    I can't understand why anyone would be against something that makes you think about not doing a stupid thing like running a red light..

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    Stephen Donaldson, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 12:30pm

    More to Houston RLC scandal than meets the eye. City "rewrote" the contract to remove early cancellation clauses to THWART ANY BAN!

    City Removed Earlier Cancellation Clauses Here:

    http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/33/3336.asp

    "The city, fearful of HB300, did not want to be forced to terminate the agreement upon the passage of a new state law and therefore, removed the termination provisions of the agreement entirely by clearly stating in the amendment that it 'remains in effect until May 27, 2014,'" Taylor explained. "The city also removed 'unless sooner terminated under this agreement' phrase that appeared in the original agreement

    City of Houston and RLC VENDOR colluded essetially to IGNORE the VOTERS.

    Read here: http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/35/3526.asp

    http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/35/3519.asp

    Hugh es accordingly denied a motion by the Kuboshes requesting to intervene in the case, the order which the Kuboshes now appeal. Hughes only allowed the Kuboshes to file amicus briefs in the case, denying them the right to object to evidence and make arguments and motions without the leave of the court. Under Texas law, courts must permit the intervention of a qualified voter to defend a measure election in an election contest.

    "Here, the city has lost a case it purports, falsely, to 'zealously defend,' enabling it to continue pocketing $10 million in annual red light camera revenues its mayor does not want to lose," Furlow wrote. "Because the city waived the statutory and constitutional defenses appellants preserved, no one but appellants can defend the Proposition 3 election they petitioned for, organized, funded with $200,000 of their family's money, and won at the polls. Only appellants can protect their and their fellow citizens' constitutional and statutory right to reform city government through charter amendment elections."

    Fight the SCAM

    Ban the CAMS!

    www.banthecams.org

    P.S. Don't forget to get your People Against RLC Signs! http://blogs.houstonpress.com/hairballs/2011/07/red-light_camera_printable_car.php
    P.S.S. DO NOT PAY ANY ILLEGAL (SINCE THE VOTERS BANNED RLC) TICKETS! IT IS TIME FOR THE CITY OF HOUSTON TO HONOR THE VOTE! Not hide behind "contracts"!

     

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  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 1:10pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    And a mark on your credit report can impact the future loan you apply for, causing a $100 offense to be worth potentially tens of thousands of dollars in future revenue loss/loss of interest on savings.

    They can also prevent you from renewing your auto insurance, your registration, or renewing your license. One way or another, you'll be paying the fine.

     

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  37.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 1:13pm

    Re: Re:

    The police Departments typically review the tickets for accuracy manually, and have been challenged successfully despite.

     

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  38.  
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    ltlw0lf (profile), Jul 12th, 2011 @ 1:46pm

    Re: Here is a Solution

    Why doesn't the city change their traffic bylaw to decrease camera related offences to $1.00.

    I am not sure about how Texas laws are set up, but I am familiar with a number of other states, and usually the city doesn't have a choice in how much a fine is for a traffic offense because it is set by the state. However, in this case, since it sounds like the law is a civil infraction and not a criminal one (based on comments from others above,) it sounds like that would be possible. In California, where I am most familiar with the law, the fine for running a stoplight or speeding is set by state statues and the city has no control over the fine. However, for city ordinances, the city can determine the fine and can set it to $1.00. Depends on the law.

     

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  39.  
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    Any Mouse (profile), Jul 12th, 2011 @ 3:46pm

    Re:

    Basically? Because they don't do that, and it has been shown time and again that these cameras decrease safety, not increase. If you can't understand that, then you need to read more articles on this subject.

     

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  40.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 4:20pm

    Re: Houston's camera contract

    Agreed. As you said, the voters voted the cameras out. They can also vote out the politicians involved.

    One could start with someone (such as a set of candidates) to remind the voters that the people involved in this does not believe in will of the voters, fiscal responsibility or public safety.

     

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  41.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2011 @ 11:19pm

    Re: That's a nice and convenient loophole

    The city can simply claim "force majeure" and get out of the contract. That is standard contract stuff. Where are their lawyers?

     

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  42.  
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    Eldakka (profile), Jul 13th, 2011 @ 12:15am

    Speed signage?

    Coudn't the city just erect speed signage directly in front of the camera that blocks its line of sight?

    Unless the contract includes a clause that specifically forbids the city (as opposed to private individuals) from blocking the camera or specifically requires the city to keep the line of sight clear from city raised signage/obstacles then they effectively get the cameras turned off it not literally.

     

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  43.  
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    Marcel de Jong (profile), Jul 13th, 2011 @ 4:38am

    Re: Re: That's a nice and convenient loophole

    I find it disturbing when a corporate entity can demand a public entity to turn something on, that the public entity wants to turn off. Who is really in charge there?

    Actually it's more disturbing to me that this gets outsourced.

    But then again I'm living in The Netherlands, where the police is in charge of the GATSOs and the speedtraps and the red light cameras and not the vendors of said cameras.

     

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  44.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 13th, 2011 @ 4:47am

    Re: Re: Red Light Tickets

    doesn't seem to stop celebrities or police trying to pull that or something similar. hehe.

     

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  45.  
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    fred, Jul 13th, 2011 @ 5:35am

    camera's traffic

    It seems to me the answer has been hit on , reduce the amount on the fines to $1.00 .The contract does or does not specify how much the fines should be ? If it is not profitable they will vanish .Here in this city Oak Ridge Tn. there are 2 systems , being new in the area, I got caught (once) $50.bucks . 35 mph on a turnpike . sorta caught me by surprise .But never again ,I know where they are now . They don't stop speeding in the residential area's where they are needed more. Kids don't play on a turnpike .

     

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  46.  
    identicon
    chris, Jul 15th, 2011 @ 9:31pm

    Re: Re:

    Interesting. Everything I've read says they increase the amount of fender benders but decrease the amount of serious injuries. I still don't like them for other reasons.

     

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  47.  
    identicon
    chris, Jul 15th, 2011 @ 9:37pm

    Re:

    The city owes the company $16 million whether the cameras get used or not. The city is turning them back on so that the cameras are generating money for the city instead of losing it.

     

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  48.  
    identicon
    chris, Jul 15th, 2011 @ 10:23pm

    Re: Re:

    I don't think that's true.
    A study sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration evaluated red light camera programs in 7 cities.11 The study found that, overall, right-angle crashes decreased by 25 percent while rear-end collisions increased by 15 percent.
    http://www.iihs.org/research/qanda/rlr.html

    Which kind of collision would you rather be in?

    I don't like the cameras because I believe private companies shouldn't be involved in law enforcement.

     

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  49.  
    identicon
    Native Houstonian, Jul 22nd, 2011 @ 6:50am

    Fuck all of you.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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