In a case with statewide implications, an appellate panel on Wednesday shredded the contract used by the city of Hollywood to enforce its red-light camera tickets.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed to reconsider an opinion issued April 23 and reversed itself, stating the agreement between Hollywood and Arizona-based vendor American Traffic Solutions Inc. is illegal.
“I believe this matter may head to the Florida Supreme Court because it is going to send shock waves throughout the state,” said traffic ticket defense attorney Jason T. Forman of Fort Lauderdale, the attorney for Eric Arem.
At the trial stage, Broward County Court Judge Terri-Ann Miller sided with the driver. The city obtained a reversal on appeal. It was then Arem’s turn to appeal.
He contested a ticket on the grounds that an ATS employee decides which cases a city traffic infraction enforcement officer gets to review.
The vendor initially determines who is subject to prosecution for a red-light violation, obtains the information necessary for completion of the citation, creates the citation, issues the citation to the vehicle owner and transmits the data to the court, Fourth District Judge Mark Klingensmith wrote for a unanimous panel. He wrote a dissent in the April opinion.
Forman said the ATS contract with Hollywood is essentially the same agreement it has with other municipalities. The ATS website said the company services 63 cities statewide.
Klingensmith noted the only role the city traffic officer plays in the process is the “clicking of a digital ‘accept’ button” when ATS forwards an image to the city.
The ATS computer then handles the printing and mailing of the violation notice to the registered owner of the vehicle, Klingensmith said.
If the car owner doesn’t respond, ATS generates a citation “and inserts a computer-generated signature of the TIEO (enforcement officer) along with the TIEO’s badge number,” he said. “After clicking ‘accept,’ the TIEO never actually sees the citation, nor is the TIEO otherwise involved in its issuance.”
In 2011, the Legislature amended state traffic laws because cities were encroaching on its authority. Earlier this year, the Florida Supreme Court ruled red-light camera tickets issued before the legislative amendment were illegal and the fines had to be refunded.
Miller certified a question to the Fourth District as one of great public importance. The county judge asked if state law authorized municipalities to delegate and have a private vendor issue citations.
Klingensmith said no.
“In Florida, only law enforcement officers and traffic enforcement officers have the legal authority to issue citations for traffic infractions, which means only law enforcement officers and traffic enforcement officers are entitled to determine who gets prosecuted for a red-light violation,” the judge wrote.
The enforcement officer must be an employee of a police agency, have successfully completed a program as described by law and be in the same county as their law enforcement agency, Klingensmith said.
The Fourth District affirmed Miller’s ruling. Fourth District Judges Carole Taylor and Burton Conner concurred.
Edward Guedes of Weiss Serota Helfman Pastoriza Cole & Boniske in Coral Gables represented the city.
Guedes said he had no comment on the substance of the opinion, and the “city is still considering its options for further review.”