Pembroke Pines ready to issue red-light ticket refunds

Jun 16, 2011

The following article was published in the Miami Herald on June 16, 2011:

Pembroke Pines ready to issue red-light ticket refunds

By Ariel Barkhurst

Pembroke Pines is ready to shell out partial refunds for red-light camera tickets issued prior to July 1, 2010.

The city is setting up a bank account with about $41,000 to refund those citations, hoping to settle a lawsuit that contends the city’s early red-light camera program was illegal.

West Palm Beach attorney Jason D. Weisser argues that traffic enforcement is usually a state power and comes from the state’s Uniform Traffic Code. That means Pembroke Pines’ program was not within the city’s legal authority until July 1, 2010, when the Florida law giving cities red-light camera ticketing authority took effect.

Pembroke Pines admits to no “liability or wrong-doing,” Assistant City Attorney Mike Cirullo said in a memo to city commissioners.

The refunds are for “settlement purposes only.”

“We didn’t think there would be a problem,” Cirullo said at a recent commission meeting. “We felt we had distinguished what we were doing versus what the state’s Uniform Traffic Code does enough that the code didn’t pre-empt that power.”

Anyone who got a ticket at Southwest 129th Avenue and Pines Boulevard between April 2008 and July 2010 can get some of their $125 back, though the city is awaiting final court approval of the settlement before it will know just how much drivers will get back.

The city issued more than 3,000 tickets before July 1, 2010.

Ticketed drivers will have to file a claim with the city to get a refund, Cirullo said.

Pembroke Pines got about $450,000 total from tickets issued before the state law took effect. It has kept all that rather than spent it — a prescient move, said City Attorney Sam Goren.

“They exercised public prudence in retaining those funds,” he said. “They predicted that because it was an all-new program, there might be contingencies.”

And contingencies there have been, in Pembroke Pines and elsewhere. Similar lawsuits have been filed against several other South Florida cities, including Aventura.

Pembroke Pines’ settlement was negotiated by American Traffic Solutions, the city’s co-defendant and the company that provides red-light cameras for most Florida cities that have them.

ATS has offered this kind of settlement in all such cases, so all drivers who got red-light camera tickets in Florida before July 2010 might get their money back soon, Cirullo said in his memo.

A spokesman for the company could not say where else such settlements might be under consideration. Weisser, who brought some of the other cases, did not return two telephone calls for comment.