Russell Bowman has spent up to $80,000 battling a $75 fine for allegedly running a red light in Richardson in 2012.
His battle doesn’t rely on a ‘he said, she said’ argument. Instead, Bowman, a Keller resident and Metroplex attorney, is basing his legal fight on what he contends is the failure of the city of Richardson to conduct the requisite engineering study before installation of red light cameras.
Before the state’s Fifth Court of Appeals last month, Victoria Thomas, an attorney representing the city of Richardson, stressed that city officials had testified over the winding trail of the case that the city had done the study.
Even then, she said, “the city was not required to comply” with the state law passed in 2007 that provided rules for the use of red light cameras.
The legislation “clearly indicates” that the law only applied to “contracts that the city entered into for installation of cameras when the contracts were dated after the effective date of the act, which was September 1, 2007,” she said.
The city began its red light contract in 2006.
The 2007 bill states:
Before installing a photographic traffic signal enforcement system at an intersection approach, the local authority shall conduct a traffic engineering study of the approach to determine whether, in addition to or as an alternative to the system, a design change to the approach or a change in the signalization of the intersection is likely to reduce the number of red light violations at the intersection.
The city, though, didn’t tell Bowman that it considered itself protected from the bill’s dictates when he contested his ticket by asking for a copy of the engineering study, his lawyer, Scott Stewart, told the appellate court.
Instead, the city’s administrative court, which hears contests of red light cases, didn’t reply when Bowman sent an email asking to see a copy of the study.
“He asked for the engineering study and then filed a motion in district court to enjoin the citation until the study could be provided,” Stewart said. “And through the discovery process, we found there was no engineering study.”
During the Dec. 12 court hearing, the judges appeared concerned about the court of jurisdiction; the red light ticketing enterprise outlined in the 2007 legislation included the hope of keeping disputes local.
If the case is determined to have been submitted by Bowman to a court of improper jurisdiction, his case could be tossed.
“What prevented the issue from being brought to the [local] administrative office?” one judge asked Stewart.
“We had no way to get [the engineering study], as the officer could not compel the production [of the study],” Stewart said.
Thomas, the lawyer representing the city, insisted that the law was clear in stating that the court of jurisdiction for an appeal is the local municipal court.
“The red light camera laws give exclusive jurisdiction to the administrative hearing office,” and on appeal to the municipal court, she said.
In a previous court filing, Bowman stated his case regarding such an arrangement:
“The red light camera laws created by Chapter 707 and the Richardson ordinances make it to where a registered owner of a vehicle like Bowman will always be liable for the $75 civil penalty, with no chance to disprove same, have the case tried by an impartial jury, or have the case be able to be appealed to an impartial appellate court, all in violation of clear and fundamental rights guaranteed by the Texas Constitution.”
A lower court ruling in Dallas County dismissed Bowman’s ticket and awarded him $27,500 in attorney fees.
Judge Dale Tillery of the 134th District Court also ordered the city of Richardson to pay Bowman $7,000 “in the event Defendant unsuccessfully appeals this judgment to the court of appeals, and $3,000.00 as additional attorney’s fees in the event Defendant unsuccessfully appeals this judgment to the Texas Supreme Court.”
The city suspended its red light program following the ruling.
If Richardson is found to have failed to conduct the proper, required engineering study, more red light programs will no doubt undergo scrutiny.
Local gadflies, media outlets, and those ticketed for red light offenses in the past would be empowered to file open records requests with cities using red light cameras, seeking copies of their engineering studies.
KXAN filed open records requests earlier this year with cities across the state that use red light cameras, seeking engineering studies.
KXAN received records from 50 cities. Our analysis of those records shows only three cities appear to have conducted a traffic engineering study that was signed and sealed by a licensed Texas engineer: Abilene, College Station, and Southlake.
The city of Richardson contracts for the cameras with Redflex, an Australian company.
Earlier last year, the Australian-based Redflex settled a bribery case with the city of Chicago for $20 million that sent two Redflex executives to prison. The city then terminated its contract with Redflex.
Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].