By on June 10, 2010

Red light cameras in San Mateo County, California received a one-two punch as an appellate court and a grand jury called into question the way red light cameras operate in the county. On Monday, the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury released a report suggesting that the eight cities within the county that use photo enforcement are preoccupied with revenue. The report found that although cities claimed their sole interest was safety, officials failed to furnish reliable evidence to back up the assertion.

“Based on interviews and responses to survey questions, the reporting of accident statistics is not being used as a measure of the effectiveness of red light cameras,” the report stated. “The primary emphasis appears to be on the number of citations issued. Based on the data provided by the cities, there was no overall trend indicating a noticeable change in accident rates before and after installation of red light cameras.”

The report found no doubt in the financial aspects of the program that generated $13,802,808 worth of tickets last year. On average, Daly City saw $294,360 worth of tickets per month; Menlo Park saw $280,980; Millbrae saw $152,978; Redwood City saw $226,122; San Carlos saw $23,638 and San Mateo saw $261,802. The number in San Carlos is particularly low because the duration of the yellow light has been increased.

“Recently, the City of San Carlos extended the yellow light time to comply with state standards and found that the number of citations fell dramatically,” the report explained. “As a result the revenue from red light citations could no longer cover the associated costs.”

The grand jury recommended that city councils hold an annual meeting to evaluate whether accident rates had dropped at photo-enforced intersections and that cameras should be removed if they are shown to be ineffective (PDF File view grand jury report, 1mb PDF file). The county’s problems were compounded on May 20 when the Appellate Division of the county’s superior court overturned a red light camera ticket because the photographic evidence was ruled insufficient.

A red light camera had accused motorist Noriko Durney of running a red light in Millbrae. Her husband Edward, a lawyer, filed an appeal after losing at the trial court level. Millbrae Police Officer Jim Aboud testified in court about the camera, claiming he was the official custodian of records for American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the for-profit company that is in charge of the city’s automated ticketing program. Aboud had taken “some type of training session” from ATS and obtained a “certificate of completion” on May 15, 2008. Appellate Judge H. James Ellis found this unimpressive.

“To be fair, it appears that Officer Aboud received a packet of materials from American Traffic Solutions and then simply presented testimony based upon the content of the materials he received,” Ellis wrote. “Simply stated, Officer Aboud presented the information provided through officials of American Traffic Solutions as if it was true and correct, without any basis for doing so.”

Edward Durney objected to the ATS photographs on the grounds that they failed to meet the requirements of the evidence code. Judge Ellis agreed.

“The appellant was denied the right to effectively cross examine anyone relating to the specifics of the system and/or its operational status,” Ellis concluded. “Without the appropriate foundation, admission of Exhibits 1 through 10 was erroneous. The judgment is reversed with directions that the charges be dismissed.”

On May 21, the appellate division in Orange County issued a decision coming to the same conclusion as the San Mateo court (read opinion). Edward Durney took this as a sign that red light cameras could be in serious trouble throughout the state.

“When real lawyers who know the rules of evidence take these cases to appeals courts who care about the rules, the weaknesses get probed and skewered,” Durney told TheNewspaper. “It looks like the whole system may be on the verge of tumbling down.”

A copy of the court case is available in a 600k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File California v. Durney (San Mateo County, California Superior Court, 5/20/2010)


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14 Comments on “California: Court, Grand Jury Bash San Mateo Red Light Cameras...”

  • avatar


  • avatar

    I certainly wouldn’t expect this sort of decision from that sort of state but we’ll take what we can get.

  • avatar

    At least now I can understand how this happened. The defendant’s husband was an attorney who had the knowledge to do this himself. I suspect this effort would have run into the tens of thousands of dollars were the defendant to have hired an attorney to do this.

    Let’s hear it for lawyers working the system!

    • 0 avatar

      We should be happy about that though. Or do you prefer the police and local governments working the system?

    • 0 avatar

      I figure that it would have cost my wife about $6,500 to have me represent her at trial (which I lost) and on appeal (which I won).

      We’re still trying to figure out how she is going to pay me. One idea won’t work. California State Bar rules are pretty strict — you can’t take sex from a client as payment for legal services.

    • 0 avatar

      Daanii2, this is just as well. Trying to establish fair market value for sex with your wife is a recipe for disaster.

    • 0 avatar

      Well said, ClutchCarGo. That’s not a good place to go.

      To tell the truth, my wife wanted to just pay the $446 ticket and forget it. She agreed to contest it only to please me. So I have only myself to blame for the work I had to do.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Maid, Cook, and Gardener service prices are well-established, and $6.5gs goes quite a ways there…

    • 0 avatar

      I had to start from scratch on this. Never done a trial before. So my “fee” of $6,500 would be unrealistic to expect from a normal client.

      I’m sure with experience a good lawyer could do a good job on these cases for a couple of thousand dollars. Below that, I think it would be hard.

      But maybe some lawyers do it. It would be interesting to see what they charge, and what people get for it.

  • avatar

    Based on what I read here it appears that in California the violation is still a criminal violation. Here in Texas cities were given the ability to classify a red light violation as a civil matter, thus removing almost all of the rules of evidence that protect people from abusive programs such as this.
    Being that it’s a civil issue here there are some interesting issues when one refuses to pay the $75 civil penalty when photographed by one of these systems.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, in California a red light ticket is treated like a speeding ticket. You do not get a trial by jury, police officers can testify without a prosecutor appearing, and there are some other shortcuts. But the same rules of evidence apply.

      It sounds like in Texas a red light ticket is more like a parking ticket. That’s interesting.

  • avatar

    I just left the San Mateo Traffic Courthouse on this very issue. I AM SO HAPPY TO HEAR SOMEONE PURSUED THIS IN COURT — BECAUSE I REALLY REALLY REALLY WANTED TO, BUT COULDN’T AFFORD MORE COSTS OR HEARTACHE!!!!!!!! What galls me is the price of the ticket — $446! (And it went up today, in time for my visit to the courthouse to $456.) People can speed at 85 mph in a 65 and get a ticket for $230, but I pay $446 for not stopping before the crosswalk line before turning right on a red. No one in the crosswalk — slowed down to a crawl — stopped and made sure all was safe before entering traffic — but because I didn’t stop before a particular line, $456. It leaves me never wanting to get in my car again. I can’t afford it. We’re being ticketed in an automated fashion for things that 99.9% of all drivers do. Who stops twice at every single intersection? (Once in front of the crosswalk and again when you’ve crept forward to see past the cars blocking your view.) Safety? I just wish there had been some actual people in the intersection crossing. I’d have stopped for them and saved myself $456!!!!

    Yikes — I used to love to drive. Now I’m just terrified.

    • 0 avatar

      Your story is sad. I hope things work out for you.

      I’ve made light of my wife’s experience. But she too still worries about the red light cameras. She got her ticket in the mail a year and a half ago. Since then, she avoids the intersection where she got caught. The gym we go to is on the other side of it. She used to go there three times a week. Now she never goes. She’s afraid to.

      These red light cameras serve no proper purpose. They are evil. Trouble is, the cities here in California desperately need this money. There’s little chance that they will give up the millions of dollars they get each year.

      I’m going to do what I can. This is not right. It should stop.

  • avatar

    Big Picture: Some people are exempt from the tickets!

    An article (“Special License Plates Shield Officials from Traffic Tickets”) said that “…in California there are nearly one million PRIVATE vehicles having ‘confidential’ license plate numbers that are protected from easy or efficient look up, thus are effectively invisible to agencies attempting to process parking, toll, and red light camera violations.” (Register, 4-4-08.) That “protected” list includes politicians – even local ones – bureaucrats, retired cops, govt. employees, and their families! Plus such oddities as veterinarians and museum guards.

    Now there is a bill in Sacramento to change things so that those guys will receive the tickets they are due. It is unwelcome among the politicians in the Capitol, so will die without heavy public support. I urge everyone to call their legislators and the AAA about AB 2097. Otherwise, the bureaucrats will keep laughing at us as we pay our $500 fines.

    I believe that other states have these protected plates, too.

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