Florida’s highest court says OK to red-light cameras

The state Supreme Court on Thursday gave a green light to the contentious red-light camera programs.

The question now is whether cities will step on the gas.

“We have no plans to revisit the program. Period,” West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio said.

The high court wrestled with whether an outside company could review the photograph of the red-light offender. In an opinion written by Justice Barbara Pariente, the answer was that state statute indeed allows municipalities to use a vendor, such as American Traffic Solutions, to review the photos.

The information, the former West Palm Beach attorney said in the 23-page opinion, must be sent to a traffic enforcement officer to determine whether a citation should be issued.

The fine for running a red light at an intersection in Florida with a camera is $158 with no points added to the driver’s record.

Currently, Boynton Beach has the cameras running and is the only municipality to embrace the technology.

Along with West Palm Beach, Boca Raton also said it had no plans to turn on its cameras.

Royal Palm Beach said it would be up to the Village Council. Juno Beach didn’t have a comment. Both cities previously had red-light camera enforcement programs.

The Supreme Court ruling grew out of a case in Aventura. Luis Torres Jimenez received a red-light camera ticket and challenged the legality of the program and the use of the camera vendor American Traffic Solutions to review the camera images.

The Miami-based Third District Court of Appeal said Aventura was not in the wrong, but asked the high court to rule on it because it was a matter of “great public importance.” The Supreme Court upheld the Third District’s decision.

West Palm Beach-based Attorney Ted Hollander, who represented Jimenez, said he’s disappointed but isn’t ready to give up the fight.

Hollander, a partner at The Ticket Clinic, has become a leading force in the fight against red-light camera tickets across South Florida for eight years. He said he hopes city leaders don’t reinstate the cameras after they hear of the court’s decision.

Municipalities across Palm Beach County and the state stopped the programs years ago after a bombardment of legal challenges.

Boynton Beach has a contract with ATS — a major player in the national red-light camera market — through 2021. The city, which has the cameras at seven intersections, has maintained it is different than other municipalities because violations are reviewed by police.

The city gives $83 per violation to the state and keeps the remaining $75 to run the program. Boynton city officials said the program nets about $250,000 annually.

Boynton’s city officials are split on the program, with some saying the cameras improve driver behavior and others saying it only benefits ATS.

But Boynton stands alone — so far.

Even when Royal Palm Beach enforced the program years ago, it barely used it.

“We never actually sent a single ticket out,” Village Manager Ray Liggins said. “I don’t even know if we issued warnings.”

There also was outcry from motorists. “At that time, they were very controversial,” he said. The council was “pretty adamant” about not using red-light cameras at the time.

It would be up to the council members to decide whether to restart the program, he said.

The Florida League of Cities filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting red-light cameras.

“We believe it is the correct interpretation and that cities and counties that want to continue to operate their red-light programs can do so under the structure that’s outlined by this decision,” said Kraig Conn, general counsel for the league.

Conn estimated that most cities and counties in the state do not use the program. Many stopped using the cameras after the landmark City of Hollywood v. Arem case.

In a 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.

The Supreme Court in its Thursday opinion rejected that ruling.

“The legislature has expressly authorized local governments to allow traffic enforcement officers to issue citations for traffic infractions captured by red-light cameras,” Pariente’s opinion reads.

While calling the court’s decision “pretty final,” Hollander said he still plans to file a motion for a rehearing or reconsideration in what he admitted is a “long shot.”

Hollander wants the high court to further address what he says is a lack of uniformity because cities adopted their own set of standards and guidelines for red-light cameras.

“What is a violation in one city might not be a violation in neighboring city,” Hollander said. “You can’t have one set of rules in Boynton and a different set of rules in West Palm Beach.”

Staff writers Kristina Webb, Lulu Ramadan, Tony Doris and Charles Elmore contributed to this story.

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