Judge puts the brakes on red-light camera opponents
Red-light camera opponents will not be allowed to help defend a November referendum in which voters rejected the use of the devices, a federal judge ruled on Sunday, saying there was no evidence that the city is failing to represent the public's interest in the case.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes said that the Kubosh family, which bankrolled the red light camera petition, could not "intervene" in the litigation over how the city should terminate its contract with American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona-based company that ran the camera program.
Paul Kubosh, a traffic defense attorney, had accused the city of purposefully offering a weak defense of the referendum as a ploy to keep the cameras operational. The city wanted to keep revenue from the tickets flowing, he alleged.
Kubosh said he was disappointed by the ruling, saying the stakes in the case go far beyond red light cameras.
"This is about whether people can petition their government for changes," he said. "If the camera company wins, not only do the cameras go back on, but the people's right to petition their government has been stopped."
Will of the people
Mayor Annise Parker has said she will respect the will of the voters by keeping the cameras out of operation, meaning the litigation will settle how much the city will have to pay ATS to terminate the contract, which expires in 2014. If the referendum is deemed invalid, City Council could still vote separately to terminate the contract.
On Nov. 2, the measure to get rid of the cameras passed with a 53 percent majority, creating an immediate $10 million hole in the Houston Police Department budget. Since the camera program's inception in 2006, the city had collected $44 million in fines from more than 800,000 citations issued with the devices, dividing the revenue among the police department, Texas hospitals and ATS.
Some rulings still to come
Hughes wrote in his ruling that Kubosh could not join the suit, just as "a councilman who managed an ordinance through the council would not be allowed to join a suit to defend it when it is challenged in court."
The fact that Parker and most City Council members advocated on behalf of the cameras does not prove that the city has a "mixed motivation," he said.
"The practice of politics by administration officials does not equal dereliction of duty," he said.
Hughes has yet to rule on other facets of the case, including whether the referendum was legal and on whether the city was correct in terminating the contract due to the referendum.
Close the chapter
City Attorney David Feldman said the city will continue to vigorously defend the legality of the referendum, a question on which Hughes may rule by the end of the year. The city opposed the Kubosh effort to intervene primarily because it would delay resolution of the case, he said.
Their effort to intervene "needlessly prolongs the process," he said. "We need to close the chapter and the book ... It is in the best interests of the people of Houston to get this behind us."
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