Red-Light Camera Disputes Still Remain; LEGISLATURE Bill Has Been Passed but Crist's Signature Needed. WHAT-IFS Lawsuit Notes One: Owner of Car Caught May Not Be Driving

Article excerpt

Byline: LARRY HANNAN

Amy Brown likes the idea of a red-light camera at the intersection of Blanding and Argyle Forest boulevards.

"It would definitely help," said Brown, a stylist at Brittany's Spa Salon in Argyle. "People are often late for their appointments" and run red lights constantly.

Last week, the Legislature passed a bill that allows city and county governments to install red-light cameras at intersections. If Gov. Charlie Crist signs the bill - and if there are no more legal roadblocks - Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford will finally have the green light to install them at the 10 most dangerous intersections in the city. Police in Orange Park and Green Cove Springs plan to install them, too.

Communities can charge a fine of about $160 for running the red light, with the money being split between the local and state governments. Court costs could increase the fine by about $95. It will be a civil infraction that won't change auto insurance rates or put points onto someone's license.

Jacksonville's City Council approved the use of red-light cameras in 2007, but city lawyers advised Rutherford to wait on installing them because of uncertainty over whether it was legal under state law. And that's what's still in dispute.

Cities like Orlando, Bradenton, Naples, Aventura, Pembroke Pines and Tampa, which installed them, are defendants in a class-action lawsuit that says the cameras violated the state constitution because the law didn't allow them when they were installed.

The suit also alleges the cities are motivated to generate revenue over public safety, and that people who are mailed tickets are denied their constitutional rights because there isn't a police officer accusing them of a crime, and the person who gets the ticket - the owner of the car - isn't always the one driving.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, said Jacksonville would be able to install cameras without the threat of a lawsuit. Jacksonville Deputy General Counsel Harold Maltz agreed on Friday.

Existing lawsuits will go forward, Reagan said, but the bill prevents cities that install cameras in the future from being sued.

But Palm Beach lawyer Jason Weisser, who is the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the class-action suit, disputed that. The law does make it legal to install cameras, he said, but it doesn't resolve all the constitutional issues.

"Right now you still don't have the right to confront your accuser," he said. Weisser is still examining the new law and will decide on any new lawsuits on a case-by-case basis.

The legislation passed the House 77-33 and in the Senate 30-7. One of the dissenters, Rep. Lake Ray, R-Jacksonville, said he had too many questions. …