Keller man wins red-light camera challenge in Richardson

A red-light camera monitors traffic at West Weatherford and Houston streets in downtown Fort Worth.
A red-light camera monitors traffic at West Weatherford and Houston streets in downtown Fort Worth. Star-Telegram archives

The city’s red-light camera program doesn’t comply with state law, a judge has ruled.

State District Judge Dale Tillery decided that Russell Bowman of Keller wasn’t liable for a $75 red-light camera penalty he received from the city of Richardson.

Tillery awarded Bowman, a lawyer who represented himself, $27,500 in attorney’s fees. His ruling last week also said the city was required to remove registration holds that had been placed on Bowman’s vehicle.

City officials said they are deciding next steps, including a possible appeal. In the meantime, the eight cameras in the city are still in use.

The ruling could be a blow to red-light camera programs, which have been limited by the Legislature and voters in recent years. If the city files an appeal, the higher court could eventually determine whether the cameras are lawful in the state, Bowman said.

“To me it’s establishing the important first step that had to be done to move forward in that direction. If no one fights it, they will just keep issuing these tickets,” he said.

Bowman, who is also involved in a class-action suit related to red-light cameras in Fort Worth, said his case could set a precedent for cases in the city.

“Richardson did not comply with the statutory requirements, so as of right now they legally could not assess any red-light camera ticket against anybody,” Bowman said.

Bowman asserted in court filings that the red-light camera ordinance, and the state’s transportation code, is unconstitutional. The Texas transportation code requires cities to complete a traffic engineering study and appoint a citizens advisory committee before installing red-light cameras. Richardson has not done so.

In his court filing, Bowman said the transportation code is unconstitutional in part because it deprives the owner of the vehicle ticketed the right to due process, including the right to trial by an impartial jury, and the right to cross-examine witnesses.

“The Transportation Code denies these rights to the owner of a motor vehicle who is charged with a red light camera violation,” Bowman said in his filing.

Bowman sued the city in August after receiving a scofflaw notice from Redflex about a violation from 2012.

Richardson is one of several cities that enforce red-light “scofflaw” programs, which put vehicle registration holds on drivers with unpaid tickets.

His vehicle was ticketed for running a red light at U.S. 75 and Belt Line Road, records show. Though he said a family member or friend could have been driving his car at that time, Bowman said he had no reason to be driving through Richardson.

“I hadn’t been up in Richardson at all,” he said. “You know what: If I ran the red light, I'll pay my penance. But there was no way I did this.”

According to the city’s ordinance, the registered owner of the vehicle is liable for the ticket no matter whether the owner was behind the wheel.

First Assistant City Manager Don Magner said the city was still evaluating its next steps, which could include filing an appeal.

“The judgment is not final and we have the ability to appeal,” Magner said. “Right now we are reviewing in detail the court’s opinion and identifying if we have additional questions that we feel like we need to get clarified.”

Richardson has been using red-light cameras to capture red-light violations since 2006. Redflex Traffic Systems won the contract to install and maintain the cameras.

The company also has cameras in Allen, Coppell, Denton, Grand Prairie, Mesquite, Plano and University Park.

City officials said the cameras are a safety tool to prevent accidents at busy intersections.

The devices have been in use in Texas since the early 2000s. Local law enforcement agencies cite studies that show public safety improvements when drivers are aware that they will be caught on camera if they run a red light.

The city says it has eight cameras at six intersections. One camera was removed in June 2014 because the intersection had become safer, according to the city.

Officials said the number of crashes had decreased at the intersections since 2008, when there were 103 crashes and 9,086 citations issued. In 2015 there were 65 crashes and almost 21,000 citations issued, according to the city.

Since the cameras took effect the city has taken in about $4.4 million from red-light camera violators, according to city records.

There is a maximum $75 fine for drivers photographed running red lights, and a $25 late fee if they don’t pay on time. But the tickets are civil violations by law and don’t show up on driving records. By state law, the tickets in Richardson can’t be reported to a credit bureau.

The cameras have been a hot topic in the last few years. Critics say the cameras are intrusive, ineffective and violate due process so the city can make money. Though an effort to ban the cameras statewide failed in the Legislature last year, several Texas cities and other states have banned the use of the cameras.

Houston shut down its system in 2010 after a petition drive and vote to ban the cameras. Last year, Arlington did away with the cameras after voters forced the issue on a ballot. The cameras brought in about $2.2 million annually from fines for the city.

Bowman doesn’t think the city will stop issuing red-light tickets.

“Until the Texas Supreme Court rules they are unconstitutional, they will keep doing it,” he said.