Last month, Broward County traffic judges threw out 24,000 pending red-light camera tickets from various cities throughout the county. These fines would have totaled about $6.3 million. Residents had sued both the City of Fort Lauderdale and the City of Hollywood on the grounds that their ticketing programs were illegal because violations caught on video were being reviewed by representatives of the private company running the program rather than by police officers. The judges agreed and tossed the pending fines.
That was great for people who had been ticketed but hadn't yet forked over the payments. But what about the people who had already paid their $264 fines?
That question is about to be answered, because several Broward residents have filed lawsuits against individual cities to obtain refunds on fines already paid. These are class-actions lawsuits that could benefit anyone who has paid a red-light camera fine in the named municipalities in the past four years.
Fort Lauderdale attorney Gary Kollin represents five people who have filed suits against their home cities: Gary Ostrow in Fort Lauderdale, Cynthia O'Reilly in Davie, Fabienne Noailles in Hallandale Beach, Alex Bascones in Sunrise, and Paul Lazarus in Aventura.
Kollin is adamant that he will prevail in court: "Every government body, municipality, or county that collected monies for allegations of violating the red-light statute via citations have to refund that money," Kollin tells New Times. He says people who were ticketed in cities besides the five named in his suits could file additional lawsuits.
According to the suits, each of the defendant cities contracted with American Traffic Solutions, a private company based in Arizona, to run red-light-camera programs. Violations not only nicked the plaintiff's pocketbooks but caused them to be adjudicated guilty and lose points on their licenses, thus upping their insurance costs.
Floridians have been fighting red-light camera tickets since 2008, when they were first implemented. American Traffic Solutions claimed the cameras would reduce crashes at intersections. Cities stood to rake in millions of dollars of revenue from fines. ATS stood to receive a percentage of those monies.
Critics of red-light-camera programs have long complained that they are just money grabs by cities and that accidents at intersections could be reduced by simply adjusting the timing of stoplights, making yellow lights last a few seconds longer to allow cars to clear intersections.
Still, individual municipalities began to contract with ATS separately, and initially, each municipality drew up its own ordinance on how the camera program would be enforced. Motorists sued on the grounds that traffic laws need to be uniform. In 2014, the state Supreme Court agreed and ruled that tickets issued prior to 2010 — when a state law was passed and superseded the local ordinances — were invalid.
Fort Lauderdale has suspended its red-light-camera program in the wake of last month's court ruling, according to Chaz Adams, the city's spokesperson. A Hollywood spokesperson has said the city has suspended its program too.
Of the four other cities besides Fort Lauderdale that Kollin is handling lawsuits against, it seems only Hallandale Beach has stopped its program, which it did last December, according to a police representative. But as of last Friday, Sunrise actually reintroduced its program after about a month's hiatus, according to the City Attorney's Office. Davie never stopped its program, says the city's police department. And neither has Aventura.
Under current state law, cities get $75 and the state gets $83 from each camera-generated ticket.
Some people who were ticketed between 2008 and 2010 filed class-action suits to get refunds of fines they'd paid. Some won settlements — but only a fraction of the fines they'd paid: $6.38 in one instance.
Kollin is not sure how many people might ultimately join his lawsuits — but paying refunds will surely hurt the cities' treasuries. Plus, they'll "still have to pay [ATS] for its processing services," says Kollin.
ATS is also facing a federal class-action lawsuit by two motorists who allege that the City of Hollywood illegally used ATS instead of actual police officers to determine red-light violations. The company provides red-light-camera services in more than 20 states across the country. It is also facing several class-action lawsuits in Missouri.
ATS could not be reached for comment.