Texas Judge Indicted For Making Secret 10-Year Deal With Red Light Camera Company

from the perverts-and-their-incentives dept

The market for red light cameras obviously can't sustain itself, even with certain legislators drooling over the prospect of installing these revenue generators at every intersection.

Part of the problem is the technology is still incredibly fallible. Cameras have issued tickets to walls, parked vehicles, and many, many drivers obeying all traffic laws. Millions of dollars of refunds have been paid out by municipalities who once thought they'd have to do nothing more than sit back and let the cash roll in.

Citizens aren't fans, so legislators have often pushed these through with a minimum of discussion. Major players in the traffic cam industry lobby hard for placement of their products -- sometimes going as far as to engage in good old analog bribery and corruption.

Officials, both public and private, have been indicted (and convicted) for their participation in the proliferation of traffic cams. Not that the cameras themselves were necessarily illegal, but because the only thing better than an uptick in public funds is an uptick in private funds.

Out in Texas, a judge is facing charges for sneaking ATS (American Traffic Solutions) in through the back door.

A Texas judge arrested for making a secret deal committing his county to a 10-year contract with a red-light camera company was suspended Tuesday for allegedly blowing right past the state's Sunshine Laws.

Judge Joel Patrick Baker of Smith County was arrested last week, after an activist group complained his 2014 meeting with American Traffic Solutions officials violated the Texas Open Meetings Act. Baker was charged with three misdemeanor counts of violating the act.

Baker allegedly hooked ATS with an exclusive 10-year deal to install its cameras in Smith County -- despite the technology being banned in Texas municipalities, despite county residents being deeply opposed to the cameras, and despite never consulting with county commissioners.

Now, Baker is suspended and facing three counts of violating the state's open records law. ATS did not comment so presumably its illegally-approved cameras are still in use -- even if it's now apparent that the tickets issued by the company will have approximately zero legal weight.

When an industry's market starts drying up, it will often turn to legislators in hopes of propping its business model up. In this case, ATS skipped most of the legislative process and found a judge willing to bypass local statutes on its behalf. If an industry can't support itself, it needs to stagger off in the direction of the graveyard, not seek assistance in screwing taxpayers in increasingly creative ways.

Filed Under: corruption, joel patrick baker, red light cameras, texas
Companies: ats


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2016 @ 12:57pm

    How does the government work on Texas?

    A judge is making these sort of deals for the county?

    It seems like more of an executive/legislative sort of role rather than a judicial one.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2016 @ 2:12pm

      Re: How does the government work on Texas?

      Same as everywhere else... corrupt is how it works.

      Am from Texas!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2016 @ 2:45pm

      Re: How does the government work on Texas?

      In smith county justice works like this: https://wikileaks.org/wiki/Smith_County_Justice

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

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 30 Jun 2016 @ 8:13am

      Re: How does the government work on Texas?

      Texas has a cultural tradition of 'wheeling and dealing' as it is called there. Other places call it corruption in office.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2016 @ 10:26am

      Re: How does the government work on Texas?

      Texas has some odd nomenclature for their county officials.

      Each county has a "Court of Commisioners" as the senior elected body. Each court has 5 members. 4 of them are titled "Commisioner", and the 5th, who presides over the group, is titled "County Judge". Despite the titles, they do no work of a modern court.

      Analogous to a city government, the Court of Commisioners is the city council, the Commisioners are the councilmen, and the County Judge is the mayor.

      So this guy is accused of cutting a sweet-heart deal and violating Texas Open Meeting laws but conducting Commision business in private instead of public with proper notice.

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

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 29 Jun 2016 @ 12:57pm

    Wait, how does a judge, corrupt or not, make a decision on what gets installed in the county in the first place? Isn't that an executive action?

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

  • icon
    Paul Renault (profile), 29 Jun 2016 @ 1:37pm

    Of course, they're going to charge...

    ..whoever in the company did the bribing too, no?

    Anyone? Bueller?

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

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 29 Jun 2016 @ 2:02pm

      Re: Of course, they're going to charge...

      Prosecuting those doing the bribery would be tortious interference with business.

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

    • icon
      trollificus (profile), 30 Jun 2016 @ 11:36am

      Re: Of course, they're going to charge...

      Possibly, but this seems, like a lot of cases, to be companies' representatives responding to a clear "Heah's how we-all do bidness roun' heah." message. An employee, in such an environment, pressured by a boss who plainly states he doesn't care about "how they-all do bidness down theah" but wants results and a corrupt potential customer, will usually go along to get along.

      We hypocritically prosecute businessmen for doing business in ways that are accepted overseas but don't seem to be bothered when it involves gov't procurement procedures, military contract bidding or "please just shovel the money into these dumptrucks" union demands.

      It just seems sleazier when the scale is smaller and somehow more acceptable when the bid/contract/procurement specs are hundreds of pages.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2016 @ 1:53pm

    East Texas

    Smith County is in north-east Texas and close to Harrison Co, home of many a patent lawsuit (Marshall). Surprised aren't we?

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

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 29 Jun 2016 @ 1:54pm

    Stagger off to the graveyard?

    ATS and companies it like should be burned at the stake.

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

  • icon
    PlagueSD (profile), 29 Jun 2016 @ 1:59pm

    Stagger off to the graveyard?

    This can be applied to a few different "businesses".

    If the RIAA can't support itself, it needs to stagger off in the direction of the graveyard, not seek assistance in screwing musicians in increasingly creative ways.

    If the MPAA can't support itself, it needs to stagger off in the direction of the graveyard, not seek assistance in screwing actors/actresses in increasingly creative ways.

    If the cable companies can't support themselves, they needs to stagger off in the direction of the graveyard, not seek assistance in screwing their customers in increasingly creative ways.



    See what I did there?

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Jun 2016 @ 3:51pm

    Why would they?

    In this case, ATS skipped most of the legislative process and found a judge willing to bypass local statutes on its behalf. If an industry can't support itself, it needs to stagger off in the direction of the graveyard, not seek assistance in screwing taxpayers in increasingly creative ways.

    'Should' doesn't mean 'will', and in this case they really have nothing to lose. Sure the judge might get a slap on the wrist or two, but will the company suffer any penalties from this? Hah, not a chance. They almost managed to smuggle their 'service' into the area and the profits that resulted from it, and sure they got caught this time but there's always somewhere else.

    They have absolutely no reason not to try stunts like this, and so long as that remains the case you can be sure that they will continue to attempt it.

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

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 29 Jun 2016 @ 4:14pm

    You know what really surprises me about this whole red light camera situation? That people aren't going at night and using them for target practice with paintball guns.

    I say paintball guns rather than real ones because they're quieter and therefore would draw less attention when used.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2016 @ 6:28pm

    I'm waiting for the day when these redlight cameras are combined with face detection. Then pedestrians caught jay walking, typcally done when traffic is light and the walk signal is malfunctioning, can expect a nasty ticket in the mail.

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

  • icon
    BentFranklin (profile), 30 Jun 2016 @ 6:50am

    I would love to read an article where someone mocked up a copy of the judge's license plate over their's and ran the red light hundreds of times (safely, at night, with no one around).

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2016 @ 8:06am

    Texas is a No-Go-Zone

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

  • icon
    Tanner Andrews (profile), 30 Jun 2016 @ 8:18pm

    I say paintball guns rather than real ones

    I expect that, eventually, some bright fellow will have a high school kid climb up the pole and simply apply duct tape across the lens opening.

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

  • identicon
    Joorie Doodie, 9 Jul 2016 @ 7:28am

    County Judges in Texas

    In most counties in Texas, County judges do in fact have judicial responsibilities. In addition to being the elected "chief executive officer" for the county, the county judge also hears probate and mental health cases. This is scary because most county judges have very little legal training and don't have to be lawyers. In ten of Texas larger counties, mental health and probate matters are instead heard by "statutory probate courts." Yes, it's an arcane system that needs to be changed.

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

  • identicon
    Joorie Doodie, 9 Jul 2016 @ 7:30am

    Smith County's corrupt school zone camera deal

    Read all about this corrupt scam perpetrated by Smith County Judge Joel Baker: CorruptionCapitalUSA.blogspot.com

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

  • identicon
    Rory Brown, 29 Sep 2016 @ 11:16am

    Red Light Running is the Life Blood of Automated Enforcement

    Red Light Camera Corporations need red light runners to make profits. They actively survey intersections all over the county for how lucrative they are. If a particular location doesn't make a profit in a certain period, they will remove the camera.

    They sell their tech. to the public via a narrative of "saving lives" but behind this facade is a morbid business that profits from tragedy and fear mongering.

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.