Red light camera election ruled invalid

June 16, 2011 10:00:00 PM PDT
You voted to turn them off, but now it looks like Houston's red light cameras might be turned back on. It's all because of a federal judge's ruling on Friday.

Right now, the city is weighing its options. While red light camera operator American Traffic Solutions is doing the same, the company's president says he always questioned from the beginning whether the proper procedures were being followed.

Voters rejected them in November, but since then the 70 red light cameras across Houston have remained in place while the city and ATS battle it out in court. Friday's ruling doesn't mean they'll immediately turn on the cameras and start issuing tickets, but what it says is voters waited six years too long to legally challenge the cameras and that the city had no business even putting the issue before them this late in the game.

Paul Kubosh is the lawyer who led the fight against red light cameras.

"We can assure you this issue is will not go away. This issue is not going to die. We have prepared for this; we knew this was coming and we're prepared with our next plan," said Kubosh.

According to the ruling, city voters had 30 days to challenge the camera ordinance back in late 2004, but failed to act. U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes criticized the city for playing word games in its attempt to pass off the referendum as an amendment to the city charter.

Judge Hughes' ruling reads in part, "The charter itself and Texas law limit the ability of citizens to initiate changes to the city's charter and ordinances. The nature of the proposition was to repeal a single ordinance about techniques for enforcing traffic laws. It was done beyond the time limit in the charter for repealing an ordinance."

"I think that's ridiculous because I mean we voted it out. What was so invalid about the election?" said driver Enrico Wallace.

"I don't have a problem with them being there. If you're not running a red light, then you're not going to have an issue. If you are running a red light then you should be ticketed," said driver Patricia Torres.

ATS and the city contract for the cameras ends in 2014. ATS says the city should have to pay millions of dollars in damages for breaking that agreement.

KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy says the city is in a tough position.

"So what is the city going to do in acknowledging the fact that they could lose, city officials in the next election will pamper the majority, pay off the contract. Gonna cost a lot of money; it would be a bad decision," Androphy said.

Mayor Annise Parker says she agrees with Friday's ruling. The city is still deciding what to do next.

"The red light cameras are currently off. The red light cameras will remain off until we are through exploring all of the options and deciding what the appropriate action is and I have the opportunity to fully brief City Council," said Mayor Parker.

Just last week, In Focus reporter Ted Oberg showed us new data that suggests accidents have increased significantly since the cameras went dark. ATS asked HPD to pull accident statistics for all 50 camera intersections.

When HPD compared six months without the cameras to the same time period a year earlier with the cameras, accidents were way up -- 137 percent city wide. With the cameras there were 200 accidents; without them there were 634. People were hurt in 200 of those accidents -- that's a 350 percent increase from when the cameras were on.


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