GRETNA — A lawsuit against the city of Gretna and Redflex Traffic Systems adds to the growing number of lawsuits questioning the legality of citations issued by photo systems.
Michael Brantley Jr. and Theodore Traigle, the two plaintiffs in the suit, claim the city illegally uses automated cameras to issue traffic tickets. They also take issue with the hearings where drivers can challenge the ticket and the photos themselves.
The lawsuit, filed in April, claims the system is unconstitutional because it obscures the face of the driver in photos. As a result, the vehicle owner can be charged with a moving violation even if someone else was driving the car, leaving it up to the accused to prove his or her innocence.
The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status for the suit.
Preliminary research by Hudson Potts & Bernstein, the law firm representing the plaintiffs, found more than 70,000 citations have been paid, though that will include people who paid more than one ticket, Adam Cossey, an attorney at the Monroe-based firm, told the Louisiana Record. The class size will be determined from city and Redflex records during the suit.
This issue has been raised in other states, as well as other parts of Louisiana. A lawsuit was recently filed against the city of New Orleans and its officials for its traffic safety cameras that were installed in 2012. A similar suit was settled in Jefferson Parish last year.
Jefferson Parish agreed to pay $7.1 million to 147,000 drivers issued tickets while the system was in use from 2007 until 2010. In that suit, 24th District Judge Henry Sullivan wasn’t convinced that the system violates drivers’ constitutional right to due process.
The case against Gretna was also filed in the 24th Judicial District Court and will be heard by Sullivan.
Some unique issues arise in the suit against the city compared to the one settled with Jefferson Parish, Cossey said.
“Specifically, the cited vehicle owners are not allowed a trial as required by state law for all citations of city traffic ordinances,” Cossey said.
The state law doesn’t apply to parish ordinances.
The suit also claims the law demands that the city prove any allegations through a sworn affidavit from a law enforcement officer and to provide an unbiased arbiter. Instead, the violations are handled at an administrative hearing, which wasn't authorized by the state.
“The evidence utilized at the hearings does not satisfy the city’s own requirements,” Cossey said “Gretna has developed a policy of finding owners liable based upon the unsworn, conclusory allegation that a violation was committed, which does not satisfy the affidavit requirement.”
He said the firm spent time researching cases in the state and around the country. Whether this becomes a state issue depends on how local officials enforce their own ordinances. Parishes and New Orleans aren’t included in the Louisiana law that says violations of state or city traffic ordinances must be resolved by a judge.
“With regard to due process, this will depend on each municipality’s particular practices and procedures,” Cossey said. “The body of law on this is interesting because it is really in its infancy with regard to applying due process guarantees to photo enforcement… . There are a number of issues to be addressed by the courts, and it is interesting to watch as the various courts apply constitutional issues to new technology.”