Red light camera suit reassigned to fourth judge in Orleans Parish

Alejandro de los Rios Feb. 10, 2011, 5:00am

A class action suit against the city of New Orleans has been reassigned to its fourth judge and now waits for conference dates to be set in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.

Metairie lawyer Joseph McMahon III filed the suit in March 2010, claiming that the Automated Traffic Enforcement System (ATES) installed by the city of New Orleans is unconstitutional. McMahon filed the suit after he successfully fought a ticket issued against him for running a red light in Orleans Parish.

The case was originally assigned to Judge Herbert Cade, but Cade recused himself on account that his son, Melvin Cade, works for the Traffic Hearing Committee.

Judge Kern Reese was given the case but also had to recuse himself in October 2010 because he received a ticket issued by the ATES. The case was assigned to Judge Sidney Cates IV, who recused himself two weeks later because he also received a traffic ticket through the system.

The case is now assigned to Judge Ethel Julien.

McMahon filed his class action suit despite defense opposition that "hearing on a class certification is improper because the city has not made an appearance before the court in the present matter."

This suit is one of at least four cases against the city and American Traffic Solutions (ATS) – the company that runs and oversees the ATES – over the red light cameras.

In December 2010, New Orleans attorney Joseph Albe filed a petition for judicial review on behalf of his wife who received a speeding ticket from an automated traffic camera. Julien is also hearing a case filed pro se by Orleans resident Paul Valteau Jr.

All the cases against ATS and the city claim that the red light and traffic camera systems are unconstitutional. New Orleans attorney Edward Washington III filed a petition for injunction, claiming the cameras violated the New Orleans city charter.

In September 2010, Judge Paulette Irons ruled in favor of Washington and ordered New Orleans' red-light and traffic cameras stop issuing any more tickets. The ruling was later upheld by the Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Louisiana Supreme Court later deferred to Irons' ruling.

In November 2010, the New Orleans City Council voted 6-1 to move oversight of the city's red light and traffic cameras to the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) from the Public Works Department (PWD). The ordinance made the cameras compliant with the city charter, which states the NOPD is to administer all traffic tickets.

ATS submitted a reply with 18 affirmative defenses to McMahon's suit Feb. 7. ATS contests that McMahon has not stated any cause of action, that his claims are prescribed based on "the doctrine of laches [and] res judicata" and that he "has suffered no loss, injury or damage."

New Orleans attorneys Harry Rosenberg and Allen Miller, and Baton Rouge attorneys Alston Johnson II and Jessica Coco are representing ATS.

Tickets for running a red light cost $145 while speeding tickets can range from $80 to $240. New Orleans has collected at least $9.4 million in revenues from the tickets and a proposed 2011 budget projects $18 million in revenue this year.

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