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St. Louis Judge: Stop Red Light Camera Enforcement

ST. LOUIS --A St. Louis judge issued an order Tuesday that invalidates the city's red-light camera ordinance.

Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer wrote in the order that the city is prohibited from attempting to enforce the ordinance, sending violation notices, processing payments or sending collection letters relating to the tickets.

The ruling is based on a suit filed in November on behalf of Sarah Tupper and Sandra Thurmond, two women who received tickets. Bevis Schock, the attorney who filed for an injunction to stop the program, argued that four court rulings invalidate the city's program.

The tickets, which were over a year old, were dismissed soon after the suit was filed.

Those named in the suit -- including the city, Mayor Francis Slay, Police Chief Sam Dotson and American Traffic Solutions Inc., which operates the cameras -- had argued to dismiss it. Some of the defendants said the claims were moot because the tickets had been dismissed and that the petitioners lacked standing because they were not hurt by the ordinance.

Ohmer wrote that there's a "general public interest" exception that applies in this case.

"Here, it is clear that the City dismissed the Petitioners' tickets for the sole reason of avoiding an injunction in this matter, which the Court was poised to enter following the November hearing," he wrote.

The defendants also argued the women could have challenged the ordinance in municipal court, but a Missouri Court of Appeals case recently held that the challengers didn't have adequate remedy in municipal court.

Ohmer also wrote that the petitioners did have standing "and a legally protectible interest sufficient to challenge the validity of the Ordinance."

The defendants also argued that the women were looking for relief as in a class-action lawsuit but didn't adhere to the requirements for such a suit. But a citizen can make such a claim if an invalid ordinance would relieve all citizens, Ohmer wrote.

He also pointed out a recent court of appeals finding in another case involving the city that the ordinance was void.

"The Court believes that the Petitioners here have met their burden of showing that the red-light camera ordinance is invalid," Ohmer wrote. "Petitioners have also adequately shown that the failure to enjoin the enforcement of the void ordinance is a direct invasion of their property rights."

No one from the city could be reached late Tuesday for comment on the ruling.

Last month, a panel of three Missouri appeals court judges upheld a lower court's ruling that a speed camera ticket given to KMOX radio host Charlie Brennan was not valid.

The court decided that the ordinance in Moline Acres conflicts with state law by presuming the owner of the vehicle is the driver.

The ruling cites the court's earlier decision involving the red-light camera ordinance in Ellisville, which is similarly written.

The Missouri Supreme Court is ultimately expected to resolve questions over traffic enforcement cameras.

The city has argued that red-light cameras improve safety.

Last week, the Arnold City Council voted unanimously to not pursue tickets from their red-light cameras. Arnold officials planned to keep issuing tickets to red-light runners caught on camera, but they'll erase the fines for those who contest the tickets in court and won't go after those who ignore the citations.

Copyright 2014 - St. Louis Post-Dispatch

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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