Lawsuit to get decades worth of Baton Rouge traffic camera fines refunded moves forward despite city-parish efforts
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Baton Rouge may still be ordered to refund millions of dollars in fines collected through the red light traffic camera program after 2007.
The Louisiana Supreme Court on Wednesday, Jan. 22, declined to throw out a lawsuit that claims the government illegally collected money using red light camera fines. City-parish attorneys requested the high court review the matter hoping it would throw out the lawsuit.
The city-parish attempted to argue the lawsuit fell under a one-year prescriptive period, which means the city-parish would not have to pay back any fine given more than one year before the lawsuit was filed in December of 2018.
Attorney Joseph R. McMahon, of Metairie, and attorney Anthony S. Maska, of Hammond, defended the lawsuit by saying it falls under a ten-year prescriptive period.
McMahon and Maska allege that enforcement of the Baton Rouge’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 Baton Rouge Police Department to enforce the city’s ordinances.
Both attorneys successfully argued a case against traffic camera fines in New Orleans using the same legal argument in 2017. New Orleans officials were ultimately ordered to refund just over $25 million dollars collected through red light cameras.
“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 a 2018 interview with WAFB.
The city-parish currently has 24 cameras stationed at 16 intersections. A contract approved by the metro council in November of 2019 extends the use of red light cameras until 2023. The contract allows for upgrades to equipment, changes to the locations where cameras are placed, and potentially allow more cameras to be placed around town.
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 have previously admitted there’s no way to punish drivers who ignore a red light camera ticket, meaning many go unpaid.
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