Boynton red-light camera tickets ruled legal, but program still ending

Boynton Beach’s attorneys have maintained for about two years that the city’s red-light camera program doesn’t violate state law.

They claim the program is different from Hollywood’s, which was deemed unconstitutional because of its reliance on the camera vendor, sending surrounding municipalities — except Boynton — to quickly shut off the cameras.

On Friday an appellate panel of Palm Beach County’s circuit judges agreed with Boynton’s attorneys and reversed a judge’s 2015 dismissal of a local man’s red-light camera citation.

The ruling comes just weeks after the majority of city commissioners voted to end the program starting in 2017. Commissioner Joe Casello, who voted to turn the cameras off, said the decision won’t change his mind. He said he still believes the cameras have failed to change driver behavior.

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City Attorney Mike Cirullo called it a win for Boynton.

“It’s an important ruling to verify that what we’ve been doing with the red-light camera program has been legal,” he said.

But he agrees with the alleged violator’s attorney, Ted Hollander, that the debate over the cameras is far from over. Hollander said it’s headed to the Florida Supreme Court.

“If another city was considering starting the program I recommend they wait until the Supreme Court makes a final decision, as this is surely still an unresolved issue,” Hollander said. “And it would be premature to start a program with all of this uncertainty still in the works.”

Friday’s ruling centers around a ticket Lendon Boss received in Boynton. In April 2015 Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Mark T. Eissey dismissed the ticket, based on the ruling in the City of Hollywood v. Arem case. In that 2014 ruling, the West Palm Beach-based Fourth District Court of Appeal said Hollywood’s program violated state law by relying on vendor American Traffic Solutions to issue the citations to the drivers.

Eissey also dismissed about 200 other tickets the same day, and issued a standing order of dismissal.

The city appealed.

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The panel said Friday that Boynton’s program is different than the Arem case. Boss’ case will have to be heard again in Eissey’s court, city attorney Cirullo said.

“Most critically … here (American Traffic Solutions) does not itself issue the (citation),” the ruling reads.

And, Boynton’s contract with the vendor establishes that the vendor doesn’t make decisions whether a violation occurred, it says.

Commissioner Justin Katz, a supporter of the program, said the ruling “validates the efforts that our police department and city staff went through to ensure that peoples constitutional rights were not being violated.”

“I don’t know if that will change anybody’s opinion but should the issue resurface in future years I hope people will take that into account,” Katz said.

Other municipalities in Palm Beach County ended the red-light camera programs after the Hollywood ruling. Boynton kept its running until April 2015 when judges tossed hundreds of citations. After making changes, the city brought the program back about four months later. Part of the deal was that vendor ATS decrease the monthly camera fee by $500 and the city didn’t have to pay the fees for three months.

In July, the state’s Third District Court of Appeal in Miami ruled in favor of Aventura’s camera program in the City of Aventura v. Jimenez case. That ruling is in conflict with the Hollywood ruling, Hollander said. The Miami court recommended it be heard by the state’s Supreme Court, which will decide if it wants to accept the case.

Even though the cameras will be shut off within months in Boynton, supporter Mayor Steven Grant said the debate over the program within the city will continue.

“The two commissioners that voted against it are up for re-election and we really will know if the citizens don’t want to have the red-light cameras, or if they do, because that’s definitely going be a topic coming up,” Grant said.

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