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Red-light camera suit seeks class status

Those issued a red-light camera ticket from St. Louis City might want to take note: A class action lawsuit has been filed against the city challenging the constitutionality of its red-light traffic cameras.

In the lawsuit filed in St. Louis Circuit Court on Dec. 21, the plaintiffs argue that the city’s ordinance is unconstitutional because the presumption that the car’s owner was the driver violates due-process protections.

“The Defendant violated the constitutional rights of the Plaintiffs and Class by prosecuting them under an Ordinance that shifts the burden of proof onto the accused, forces self-incrimination in order to prove innocence and fails to afford adequate due process protections,” the petition said.

Plaintiff attorney Russell Watters, of Brown & James, said this case is different from other challenges to the red-light cameras.

“The city is unique in the way that they drafted its [red-light camera] ordinance,” he said. “It is a criminal ordinance that has a penalty up to a $500 fine and 90 days of jail time. It’s different from many of the other ordinances out there that are only civil violations, but the constitutional issues would apply in this case.”

Watters said the city’s ordinance is distinguishable from the city of Arnold’s red-light camera ordinance, which was litigated in federal court. In July, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas C. Mummert III, of the Eastern District of Missouri, granted a motion by the city of Arnold and co-defendant American Traffic Solutions, or ATS, for summary judgment on the grounds that the city’s ordinance governing red-light cameras is civil in nature. The ordinance would have had to be criminal in nature for the plaintiffs to be able to pursue their due process claims. The judge also said that cities could use the cameras as a way to improve public safety.

St. Louis City Counselor Patricia Hageman said that the lawsuit was not raising any novel issues.

“There have been many legal challenges to the constitutionality of our red-light camera ticket program, and the city has prevailed in each of them,” she wrote in an e-mail. “The arguments raised in this suit are not new, and have been successfully defended not only by St. Louis but also by other municipalities in Missouri and throughout the country. We will continue to vigorously defend the constitutionality of our program. The naysayers to red-light cameras really should move on to another cause – they are a proven public safety tool and are used and accepted widely throughout the United States.”

The lawsuit asks for a class to be certified consisting of all Missourians who have received a red-light camera ticket in the mail and paid the ordinance’s fine. The petition said it estimates that damages to the class are approximately $10 million and is asking for punitive damages.

The case is Alexa Smith, J. Timothy and Belle Keane, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated v. City of Saint Louis, 0922-CC10285.