BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Over a decade’s worth of money collected through traffic camera fines in the City of Baton Rouge should be refunded, according to a legal action filed by two Louisiana attorneys Friday.
Attorney Joseph R. McMahon, of Metairie, and attorney Anthony S. Maska, of Hammond, filed the action alleging that enforcement of the City’s traffic camera ordinance by the Department of Public Works violates the Home Rule Charter of the City of Baton Rouge, which only authorizes the Police Department to enforce the City’s ordinances. Both attorneys successfully petitioned for a class action in New Orleans using the same legal argument in 2017.
“We have long-believed that the program in and of itself is unconstitutional in its enforcement in that it deprives people of their right to confront their accuser and it also violates several other provisions of Louisiana law,” McMahon said in an interview with WAFB Saturday, December 15.
The two attorneys say they filed the suit against the city on behalf of several plaintiffs who received “Notices of Violation” of the red light traffic ordinance which was adopted by the city in 2007. According to the suit, the thousands of similar traffic camera tickets which have been issued by the city since then have been done so illegally, and all money collected should be reimbursed.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council failed to approve a contract renewal for the Baton Rouge Red Light Camera Program Wednesday, December 10. The owners of cars that run red lights where cameras are placed are fined $117 immediately after the violation, then an additional $35 in late fees after 60 days and $15 more after 90 days. That money has been used by city officials to support salaries for more than 50 Baton Rouge police officers, according to The Advocate. Records show in 2016, tickets and fines brought in more than $2.3 million. In 2015, the program made more than $2.6 million.
However, city officials admit there’s no way to punish drivers who ignore a red light camera ticket, meaning many go unpaid. In fact, officials have also said they’re still evaluating their options for collecting the more than $43 million in unpaid red light tickets that has accumulated over the past 10 years, according to The Advocate.
The use of red light cameras received strong criticism in the past. “It’s got little to do with safety and everything to do with the money grab because that’s all I think the traffic cameras are,” said State Representative Paul Hollis, R in a 2017 interview. That money needs to be returned to the citizens, according to McMahon and Maska.
The case would be certified as a class-action lawsuit pending approval from a judge in the next 90 days.
You can read the full lawsuit here.