Florida Justices Show Little Support For Cities' Red Light Camera Laws

, Daily Business Review

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Attorneys for the cities of Aventura and Orlando appeared to make little headway defending their red light camera ordinances before the Florida Supreme Court.

Attorneys for the cities of Aventura and Orlando appeared to get little sympathy Thursday from the Florida Supreme Court on their arguments that they may enforce red light camera fines under a system that parallels but is not the same as state law.

Cases challenging the cities' red light camera ordinance were consolidated for the hearing. The Third District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Aventura. The Fifth District ruled in favor of the driver in the Orlando case.

Attorneys for both cities argued they have home rule authority based on a municipality's right to regulate the movement of traffic to use security devices including the traffic signal cameras.

The Legislature explicitly authorized red light cameras in 2010 and, as Justice Barbara Pariente noted, income from the fines was a motivating factor when lawmakers incorporated the cameras in state traffic control law. However, the cities insist this authority extends to discretionary powers over how regulated traffic is enforced.

Andrew Harris of Burlington & Rockenbach in West Palm Beach, attorney for Aventura defendant Richard Masone, insists the Aventura ordinance conflicts with state law and should be thrown out. He claimed the cities could not apply penalties beyond the state's Uniform Traffic Control law, especially since they are arguably harsher than state law.

Aventura is allowed to put a lien on property, Harris said. Orlando does the same and authorizes suspension of professional licenses. These actions are expressly pre-empted by state law. He also protested a system that does not allow trial but goes straight to appeal before a special master.

"What we have here are additional penalties," Harris said. "If that's not express pre-emption, I don't know what would be."

Justice Charles Canady, employing that argument in debate with Aventura's attorney, Edward Guedes of Weiss Serota Helfman in Coral Gables, noted a law that specified additional fines cities could impose. In contrast, the Uniform Traffic Control law does not have that option.

Guedes agreed with Canady about what the law said but contended the city's actions don't fall under the Uniform Traffic Control law.

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