A federal judge has struck down a lawsuit alleging that 18 Washington cities, including Lacey, charge too much for traffic violations caught on camera.
The order of dismissal, issued Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge John C. Coughenour in Seattle, closes a case in which more than 40 drivers claimed that fines issued from red-light and speed-zone cameras exceeded the amount intended by state law.
The plaintiffs claimed that when state lawmakers voted in 2005 to allow automated traffic cameras, they intended the tickets to equal the amount of a typical parking ticket – roughly $20. The cities named in the lawsuit charge between $101 and $124.
The judge sided with the cities, saying photo enforcement ticket fines could equal the price of cities’ most costly parking violations, such as parking in a tow-away or a handicapped zone.
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“The Court agrees that the Code grants municipalities flexibility in determining fine levels, and that the fines are not excessive,” Coughenour wrote.
Cities named in the lawsuit were Lacey, Auburn, Bellevue, Bonney Lake, Bremerton, Burien, Federal Way, Fife, Issaquah, Lake Forest Park, Lakewood, Lynn-wood, Puyallup, Renton, SeaTac, Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma.
Camera system operators Red Flex Traffic Systems Inc. and American Traffic Systems Inc. also were defendants.
David Breskin, a Seattle attorney who represented the plaintiffs, said his clients might appeal. He said the ruling took them by surprise.
“We think it’s very clear from the legislative history what was intended,” Breskin said. “There are express statements that the fines were to be no more than $20.”
In June 2008, Lacey became the first city in Thurston County to use cameras to catch red-light runners. The city contracts with American Traffic Solutions of Scottsdale, Ariz., for two cameras that monitor vehicles heading west and east on Pacific Avenue at Sleater-Kinney Road.
In August, the City Council approved extending the contract three more years after data reviewed by officials showed that the cameras have reduced total collisions, injury collisions and the number of red-light violations.
City officials were unavailable for comment late Tuesday afternoon.
The council has expressed an interest in expanding the number of monitored intersections.
Staff writer Christian Hill contributed to this report.