Oregon Man Wins Three-year-long Constitutional Battle Sparked by Red Light Camera Ticket

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
oregon man wins three year long constitutional battle sparked by red light camera

You can’t fight city hall, they say, but you can fight the state of Oregon — and win.

That’s what one man, Mats Järlström, found out after a dogged fight against the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying. The epic constitutional battle, which pitted a former electronics engineer against an overzealous bureaucracy, began when his wife received a ticket for running a red light.

Järlström first fought the ticket, which was mailed to the Beaverton, Oregon couple in 2013, via a federal civil rights lawsuit. In the suit, he claimed the red light cycle at the offending intersection was not sufficiently lengthy, being some 3.35 seconds in duration. The norm is 3.5 seconds. However, the federal judge was not receptive to the idea that this amounted to a cash grab on the part of the municipality, tossing the case out of court. (Järlström’s wife paid the ticket.)

Undeterred in his quest against the cameras, Järlström submitted a 2014 letter to the state board arguing his case. In it, he presented research on red light camera systems and asked to discuss the issue with the board’s members. Having once worked on aircraft camera systems for the Swedish Air Force, the technology held particular interest for him. Oregon was not happy to hear from him.

Rather than hear Järlström out, the board issued a $500 fine. Despite holding a degree in electrical engineering (and having worked as one), the state board said Järlström’s research on the topic amounted to practicing engineering without a license. Even stating the words “I am an engineer” was a violation of state law, it said.

Clearly, the state board thought this would silence him. It did not. Claiming that a person does not need a license to practice basic math, Järlström filed a non-monetary lawsuit against the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying on constitutional (read: free speech) grounds. A libertarian law firm, Institute for Justice, picked up the case.

According to Reason, the case revealed numerous instances where the state board had aggressively investigated similar cases, even going as far as opening a file on Portland Monthly after the publication described a woman as being “an engineer behind Portland’s newest bridge.”

This week, Järlström’s persistence finally paid off. The state admitted in court that it violated the plaintiff’s rights.

“We have admitted to violating Mr. Järlström’s rights,” Senior Assistant Attorney General Christina L. Beatty-Walters said, adding that the state’s handling of the issue “was not narrowly tailored to any compelling state interests.”

Oregon has now refunded Järlström’s $500 fine and assured him it will not police his use of the word “engineer.” However, that’s not good enough for the plaintiff. The quiet Swede wants the state to back off with its broad interpretation of the law, citing previous cases.

“Past history suggests the board can’t be trusted on how the laws should be applied constitutionally,” said Samuel Gedge, Järlström attorney.

The judge in the case, Stacie F. Beckerman, seems to agree.

“If the board got it wrong in this case, why should the court defer to the board going forward?” Beckerman stated. With another ruling coming down within a few weeks, it’s possible the state board could find its powers weakened in the near future.

Never doubt the power of a patient and righteous individual, even one that’s peeved over a $150 red light ticket.

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2 of 57 comments
  • Jcwconsult Jcwconsult on Dec 09, 2017

    Please note the dramatic videos of t-bone crashes and near misses are absolute proof the cameras did NOT prevent those crashes and near misses. Those videos, when properly considered, show the cameras are ineffective to prevent violations by drivers that are DUI, otherwise impaired, or just distracted.

  • Jcwconsult Jcwconsult on Dec 10, 2017

    If red light cameras ticketed only through movement violations 2+ seconds into the red, and ticketed right on red movements only when the videos revealed a failure to yield the right of way, then no one would object. But the cameras would then lose so much money versus their high costs that no one would use them.

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