Traffic Ticket Camera Company Channels Kafka, Threatening Court Appearances, Even Though "No Such Court Exists"
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A class action suit claims the City of Center Point and Redflex Traffic Systems illegally ticket drivers by threatening them with a court appearance if they refuse to pay fines, though "no such court exists."
Redflex owns and operates the traffic cameras for Center Point, which photographs cars believed to run red lights or stop signs or speed.
Such traffic-enforcement systems have been challenged, usually unsuccessfully, in courts all over the country.
This one is a bit odd, though. It claims that the law that made the traffic cameras legal also gave ticketed drivers the right to appeal—but there are no courts authorized to hear the appeals, the two named plaintiffs say.
Rhonda Lashon Stubbs and Celeita Snow sued the city and Redflex in Jefferson County Court.
Stubbs's Lexus, license plate IMNGOD, was ticketed twice, allegedly for running the same stop sign on different days. Snow's Mercedes Benz was issued 14 citations.
Snow says she repeatedly requested hearings on her tickets, and the city granted them, then "postponed" them, but never set a new date.
It can't, she says, because there is no court that can hear it.
"Ms. Stubbs paid the Notice of Violation because the Defendants left her with the false impression that the administrative hearing would be binding and would be conducted by the 'Municipal Court,'" the complaint states. "Currently, however, the Defendants strenuously argue that no such court exists. By leaving the Plaintiff with the false impression that she would appear in front of a 'court,' the Notice of Violation carried the full imprimatur of the State of Alabama and misled and intimidated Ms. Stubbs and the Class members into paying the 'fine.'
"Similarly, the Notice of Violation sent to Stubbs and other members of the Class did not explain that the $100 'fine' could not be collected unless the City filed a later, separate civil suit. Neither Ms. Stubbs nor any other Class member was informed that the Notice of Violation was not judicial in nature but was actually a non-binding collection notice."
In fact, the plaintiffs say, a state judge has told the city that its system is illegal.
The complaint states: "On August 17, 2012, an order was entered by Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge David N. Lichtenstein in City of Center Point v. Kenneth Crowder, CV-2012-0929 whereby this Court found that the Alabama District Courts do not have jurisdiction to hear appeals of any matters concerning fines, adjudications, or other action pursuant to Ordinance 2011-02. Therefore, the 'appeal' rights granted in the statute are defective as contrary to the Alabama Constitution.
"As a result of deficiencies in the Statute and Ordinance - as pointed out by Judge Lichtenstein - no meaningful appeal lies from any decision of the hearing officer appointed by the Mayor. Act 2011-580 grants rights of appeal and the Due Process Clause requires the opportunity for meaningful review; absent that, the Statute and the Ordinance are unconstitutional as applied and are due to be stricken."
Every member of the class, in other words, becomes a hero, or victim, of his or her own Kafka novel.
The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment, costs, and damages for civil rights violations, suppression of material facts, and unlawful debt collection practices.
Their lead counsel is Samuel M. Hill.
Franz Kafka (1883-1924) wrote novels and stories in which the hero, often named Josef K., is summoned to appear at a court he cannot reach, for a crime uncertain.
Center Point, pop. 23,000, is a suburb of Birmingham.