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In Iowa, camera tickets deemed illegal

Judge rules that Davenport city policy violates state law. Plaintiffs preparing for class-action that could force city to refund 14,000 fines. But case appears headed to Iowa Supreme Court.
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Written by Richard Koman on

In Iowa, the city of Davenport may wind up refunding traffic fines to some 14,000 drivers who were issued civil rather than criminal citations when cameras captured them speeding or running red lights, The Quad-City Times reports.

District Court Judge Gary McKenric ruled that the city's policy that violations recorded by cameras are to be civil citations conflicts with Iowa state law that requires who people who speed or run a red light to be issued criminal citations.

Next step, says Richard Davidson, one of the attorneys representing two drivers ticketed by the system, is to move for a class-action lawsuit. If plaintiffs win that suit, the city will have to refund a whole lot of fines.

"It looks pretty good for people getting a refund," he said.
The plaintiffs' attorneys have not filed for an injunction that would bar Davenport from continuing to use the cameras. They said they will give the city time to make that decision before considering legal action.
"I don't know why it would be financially wise to continue when they might have to give all of the money back," said Catherine Cartee, who also represents the plaintiffs.

The cameras have lined the city's coffers with many more fines than actual police could have handed out. And the funds have been earmarked to beef up law enforcement. City officials recently announced plans to use $470,000 in camera fine revenue to help fund a new police officer spot, create a juvenile crime unit and increase neighborhood enforcement.

Davenport Police Chief Mike Bladel said he expects the city's legal staff to appeal the judge's decision. "The fact is these cameras are widespread throughout the country, and throughout the world for that matter," Bladel said. "So it's hard for me to believe that this thing is over."
It's hard for Mary Thee, Davenport's corporate counsel, to believe it, either. She'll appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court within the next 30 days.
She said the facts in the case were virtually identical to those of a case last spring that the city won. In that case, Scott County Magistrate Kyle Williamson ruled against a motorist who claimed his constitutional rights were violated because the city ordinance shifts the burden of proof to the accused.

"What we have now is two different judges who have a different legal perspective on the same legal issue with two different results," Thee said. "So ultimately, the Iowa Supreme Court will make the decision."

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