Court Upholds St. Louis' Red-Light Camera Ordinance; Appeals Panel Rules Traffic Regulations Are 'A Proper Exercise' of City's Police Authority

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ST. LOUIS * While allowing that Missouri communities may have seized upon red-light camera laws as "the elusive goose that lays the golden egg," a state appeals court on Tuesday upheld enforcement of the one in St. Louis.

A three-judge panel of the Eastern District Missouri Court of Appeals reversed St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Mark Neill's ruling last year that the city lacks authority to enact such an ordinance.

The appeals court concluded that reasonable traffic regulations are "a proper exercise" of a city's police power, and that St. Louis is a constitutional charter city "possessing broad authority" to enact laws.

Neill had struck down the St. Louis ordinance in February 2012, adding that it was unconstitutional because it did not provide a way for the accused to contest a violation, except to assert that someone else was driving.

Maggie Crane, a spokeswoman for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, said the city was not surprised by Tuesday's ruling. "The city believed all along that red-light cameras are legal," she said. "The bottom line is it comes down to public safety."

While the opinion focused on deficiencies with the violation notices issued to offenders, Crane said the city fixed the wording more than a year ago.

Russell Watters, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, said there will be a motion for a rehearing and transfer within the next 15 days, with an intent to put the issue before the Missouri Supreme Court.

Watters said his clients maintain the city lacked authority to enact the ordinance. While the city has changed its summonses, he added, it long used an illegal version.

"They continued to collect these fines illegally for the last two or three years actually since its inception," he said.

St. Louis enacted the ordinance in November 2005 and it launched the photo enforcement program in May 2007 under a contract with American Traffic Solutions. Violators receive $100 citations in the mail.

Last year, St. Louis red-light tickets brought in about $5.4 million, the mayor's office said, with about $3.7 million going to the city's general revenue fund and $1.7 million to American Traffic Solutions.

There are 31 city intersections monitored by 65 cameras, officials said. …