Judge issues injunction, leaving red light cams up

HOUSTON But in the battle over thousands of dollars, you could be paying in the future. Voters chose to do away with the red light cameras in the election earlier this month. But the fight between the city of Houston and the company that makes the cameras is being taken to court.

These cameras may not only stay up, our legal analyst says this federal lawsuit means they could be turned back on -- sooner than you think.

On November 15, we told you the city of Houston filed a federal lawsuit against American Traffic Solutions, the red light company vendor. Three days ago, ATS, filed a counterclaim, saying the city broke its contract and that the election is invalid.

"If the court rules in favor of the red light contractor, we may have these red light cameras up and running again. That's why the court didn't ask they be taken down," KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy said. "The court issued an injunction, saying don't take these cameras down until I determine whether or not this referendum was constitutional and whether or not these contracts can be challenged."

The city entered its contract with phoenix-based ATS in 2006. Their deal was supposed to extend into the year 2014 with an out providing 120-day notice. But when Houston citizens petitioned to get the red light camera issue on the November ballot, then voted them down, the city was forced into a corner -- listen to voters and get rid of the cameras or break its contract and pay ATS the remainder.

"The city doesn't want to have to pay damages, so this could be a concerted effort on the part of the city with the contractor to avoid shutting down these cameras," Androphy said.

ATS claims the city broke the law when it allowed Proposition 3 to be placed on the ballot and even violated the US Constitution when it adopted a law that went against a pre-existing contract.

"Bottom line is that these red light cameras may be up and running again," Androphy said.

From out of town, leaders opposing red light cameras call the ordeal a political conspiracy and say invalidating the election would be best for everyone -- except Houston voters.

"Do I think they conspired? Absolutely. Do I think that they're talking all the time? Absolutely. Do I think it's a friendly lawsuit? Absolutely," said Paul Kubosh with Citizens against Red Light Cameras. "I see the city and I see ATS both wanting the same thing, and that's the election thrown out."

A judge has ordered the cameras stay up for now while all this is hammered out in court, but they will not record. And the judge is moving quickly. He ordered both sides, the city and ATS, to brief whether the referendum is in fact valid under city, state and federal law. That has to be done by Friday.

A hearing will follow, and the outcome will be key to learning whether these cameras will stay or go.

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