The Red Light Camera Saga In Houston Continues: Court Lets New Parties Enter The Case

from the convoluted... dept

We've been following the somewhat bizarre legal situation in Houston, involving a legal fight over the red light cameras in that city. The details have been somewhat confusing, but the short summary is that there was a public referendum that voted against the red light cameras, which created a legal mess. That's because when the cameras had been installed, the city signed a long-term contract with the company supplying them, ATS. ATS then sued the city, and confusion ensued. Some of the details were a bit hazy, but a new ruling lays it out pretty clearly.

Basically, the city (which profits handsomely off of red light cameras) wanted to keep the cameras, and thus was upset about the referendum. So when ATS sued the city over its attempt to follow the referendum and cancel the contract, the city had every incentive to basically throw the case and let ATS "win," since that meant the city itself would win in terms of revenue. That's why the citizens who had put the referendum to ban red light cameras on the ballot decided to try to get listed as parties to the lawsuit as well -- to make sure that the public's rights were defended. The lower court refused to let them get involved, but the 5th Circuit appeals court disagreed -- noting that it's in the public's interest that these people are allowed to take part in the case.

What's interesting is how the court justifies allowing these people to enter the case, noting that they spent considerable money on the campaign to get the referendum in the first place:
These intervenors are unique because they engineered the drive that led to a city charter amendment over the nearly unanimous, well funded, and longstanding opposition of the Mayor and City Council. They have demonstrated a particular interest in cementing their electoral victory and defending the charter amendment itself. If the amendment is overturned, their money and time will have been spent in vain. Finally, they have raised substantial doubts about the City's motives and conduct in its defense of the litigation with ATS. Without these intervenors' participation, the City might well be inclined to settle the litigation on terms that preserve the adverse ruling on the charter amendment and thus preserve its flexibility to reinstate red light cameras in the future. This is no matter of simply defending City policy of one sort or another: it involves millions of dollars of revenue to City coffers during a period of considerable economic uncertainty.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2012 @ 7:01am

    The problem with traffic tickets in general is that the entire system from the officers to the procecutors to the judges are paid by the general city fund that relies partially on revenue generated by procecuting these cases meaning that the system has a vested interest in the outcome of each case. Public safety is merely the excuse used to sell the process to the public. The problem is made worse with cameras in that the tickets are sent to the registered owner of the vehicle which may or may not be the driver of the vehicle. At least when an officer writes a ticket, the person who is accused is the person in control of the vehicle.

    Last I remember reading on chron.com (I couldn't find the link) a few months ago the federal district court ignored the results of the referendum because of a city charter that states that policies enacted by city council had to be challenged within 30 days to be valid and since the deal to install the cameras was made months prior (even though as usual the general public wasn't made aware of it then) the referendum was irrelevant. I remember thinking then that we need an ordinance that says that basically the will of the people trumps all other provisions.

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