Bowman takes red light camera battle to state supreme court

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red light camera

What began with a challenge to a red light camera ticket the city of Richardson issued to him six years ago, continues with Russell Bowman preparing to take a lawsuit to the Texas Supreme Court.

Bowman, an Irving lawyer, has made getting rid of red light cameras in Texas a career. And with the help of a few equally committed people, his fight is gaining momentum.

State Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, who has carried bills to outlaw the cameras statewide in the last two legislative sessions, told The Texas Monitor Friday he is considering including language in a similar bill that would force cities to refund some or all of an estimated $537 million in fines collected over the last decade.

“These cities were breaking the law when they were issuing these tickets,” Huffines said in a phone interview from Israel. “We’re looking for relief for those who were fined. I think they deserve a refund. It’s very disheartening. If citizens are expected to obey the law, cities should be expected to obey the law, too.”

The law Huffines is referring to — Senate Bill 1119, passed in 2007 — is at the heart of all of the legal work Bowman has done over half of dozen years in dozens of Texas cities.

The bill requires cities considering installing any kind of red light camera system to prepare and approve an engineering study to justify its implementation.

Bowman argued successfully in a class action lawsuit on behalf of people who got red light camera tickets in Willis that the city had done no such study. Willis, about 50 miles north of Houston, won an appeal last August.

Bowman told The Texas Monitor on Friday he expected to file a brief for a hearing before the state Supreme Court. “These cases have been languishing but it’s all delaying tactics,” Bowman said. “These cities know they don’t have a leg to stand on.”

A district judge in Richardson helped Bowman score the first big win for the anti-camera forces when the judge awarded him more than $27,000 in attorney’s fees in a summary judgment in July of 2016. Bowman had been fighting his single ticket for three years.

Richardson was forced to suspend its red light camera program, but as The Texas Monitor reported at the beginning of this year, Richardson is appealing the ruling.

Bowman began targeting most of the five dozen Texas cities with red light camera systems, rolling them into a class action lawsuit contending the tickets they were issuing were illegal.

Bowman has been forced to argue cases individually with judges ruling that the circumstances in each case are different, and stripping out all but a single city.

Building from Bowman’s case, Byron Schirmbeck, Texas coordinator for the national Campaign for Liberty, began pressing the city of Austin to produce an engineering study to validate its camera program.

With the help of this reporter, Schirmbeck, who had led a petition drive in Baytown that led to the city removing its camera system, made a formal request of Joana Perez, spokeswoman for Austin’s transportation department, to locate the study.

No study was ever produced.

Schirmbeck contended at the time nearly $6 million in red light camera citations — an average of 9,800 valued at $735,000 a year for eight years — were illegal.

“They never had the authority from the state to issue them since they didn’t meet the statutory requirements to impose the civil penalty,” Schirmbeck said at the time.

A year later, Schirmbeck’s contention was confirmed when KXAN-TV in Austin filed requests under the Texas Public Information Act for the engineering studies from Austin and 49 other Texas cities with red light camera systems. Only Abilene, College Station and Southlake could provide one.

Willis had provided a study, but it had been done after Bowman filed his lawsuit.

Reporters for the station using Texas Comptroller data found the cities they studied had collected $537 million since 2008.

In October, Helwig Van Der Grinten, founder of Houston Coalition Against Red Light Cameras, signed up Bowman to appeal a lower court dismissal of his class action lawsuit against the city of Sugar Land.

And earlier this week, Bowman marked the third anniversary of fighting James Watson’s red light camera ticket in Southlake. When the judge dropped 52 other cities from the lawsuit, Bowman vowed he would appeal. Bowman told The Texas Monitor he believed the appeal would be successful, but was prepared to fight the case as long as was necessary.

Huffines is hoping to save Bowman a lot of trouble. Bills to get rid of red light cameras have made it through the Senate in the past two sessions, only to stall in the House. Huffines blames it on House leadership. With the choice of a new speaker at the beginning of the session in January to replace outgoing Joe Straus, he is optimistic a red light camera bill will pass.

“The key here is that this has never been about public safety,” Huffines said. “Police departments and city officials have provided no evidence that this is the case. It’s about revenue. And I don’t think cities should be balancing their books on the back of Texans.”

Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].

26 COMMENTS

  1. Hutto, Tx had that red light camera. And ever since people are taking that to the court for in violation of handing out wrongful tickets. They will turn down the red stop light camera to avoid lawsuits. I agreed that red light camera also do causes accident asking people stopping too quickly when the light just turn yellow and causes rear in collision

  2. It’s BS and he’ll win. They tried this crap in Florida and they had to stop. Follow the money. This has very little to do with safety and everything about increasing revenue. Who owns the cameras and who keeps track of the timing on the lights? Who’s making money? The courts for sure! Who else? Think about it. Don’t be fooled. It’s a money grab!!!

  3. Red light cameras are for-profit rackets run by for-profit camera companies and their for-profit city business partners. Involving for-profit camera companies in any part of traffic enforcement guarantees that the true focus will be profits – NOT safety. The fact so many Texas cities simply defied the law and used cameras without the required studies shows that profits are the first, last, and only real reason cameras were used.

    Red light cameras need to be illegal to use in every state, as they are in some already. Texas residents need to call and write their state Representatives, Senators and the Governor to politely but firmly insist that red light cameras become illegal under state law and all of them be taken down.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  4. What are people afraid of. If they don’t run a red light, they won’t get red lighted. You don’t know how many times I’ve seen people run red lights. I even got red lighted, twice, at the same intersection. Did I deserve it, yes, do I wish they hadn’t gotten rid of it, yes. Only people who break the law, “who go through lights that are red”want to get rid of them. They do save lives.

    • I stand by what I said, people don’t want the red light because they know they will get red lighted. Hooray for you that you haven’t run a red light since high school. Sometimes we make mistakes. I guess some of us aren’t as perfect as you.

    • Sometimes those things go off on their own especially in high winds. And they dont prove who was driving. If u sold the car in a private deal and the new owner hasnt registered the car u get the ticket. And they dont stop accidents but the sudden stopping of a car forna red light to keep from getting the ticket can and has been proven to cause more fender benders. Its why Arlington has gotten rid of them. They are there for pure revenue. The city nor police department dont run or own the cameras. They get the pics in the mail or emailed look them over then look up registration. Doesnt prove who was driving.

    • Thing is, private companies own and run them. Cities only get a little cut of the action. But using law enforcement as a revenue tool goes against everything this country once stood for. The only thing more perverse is civil forfeiture

    • 1) It is about government over reach.
      2) The onus is on the government to prove you were driving the car, and a citizen is absolutely NOT obligated to incriminate himself.
      3) While they have been shown to decrease “t-bone” collisions from red light runners, it’s been proven that many cities, (in an effort to generate revenue), shorten the duration of the amber light, causing an upswing in rear-end collisions.
      4) All this is an effort to make money, not increase safety.

      If we lived in a different time, the SOBs who passed this BS on us would have been tarred and feathered. 😠

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