Red Light Cameras Trashed, Legal Blunders Swept Under the Rug

Fullerton has terminated a dubious partnership with failing red light camera vendor Nestor Traffic Systems after the contract for operation of the cameras was declared to be illegal by an appeals court last year. It’s a long story, but stick with us as we tell this tale of inept vendor selection and blatant disregard for the law in Fullerton…

Why won't this thing turn on?
The end of an error

A long time ago, Fullerton signed a contract with Nestor Traffic Systems to provide red-light cameras throughout the city in an attempt to increase ticket revenue and reduce accidents at popular intersections. At the time, the contract included a clause that allowed the city’s payment to be negotiated down if ticket issuance was lower than expected.

Just about anyone could see that the vendor now had a financial incentive to keep the number of tickets high — that’s a problem. At the time, case law had already dictated that vendors could not benefit from the number of red light tickets issued. Eventually these rulings would become codified into state law.

When the city inquired about how this new California law might affect the contract, the vendor essentially said “Don’t worry, we’ll change it if we get caught.” Sound familiar? That’s how it goes in Fullerton. So our representatives carelessly signed on the dotted line and the police department kept giving out red light tickets illegally.

It didn’t take long for one angry citizen to file a lawsuit, and in 2008 an appellate court ruled that the tickets were being given out unlawfully. Issuance of red light tickets immediately stopped.

After the city lost the appeal, a whirlwind of suspicious events transpired:

  1. Failure to Appear – The city of Fullerton didn’t even know that they had lost the appeal until the Register called them for the story. It turns out that the city never showed up for the appeal. The city’s crack legal team at Jones and Meyers attempted to have the original ruling overturned by filing a 26-page Writ of Mandate in May. The request claims that the Fullerton PD was never serviced with a notice of an appeal, even though the court docket says otherwise. The PD’s request was denied, and that’s the last we’ve heard of the case.
  2. The Right to Remain Silent – For the council meeting on 2/3/09, the city staff put together an amendment of the Nestor contract to end the city’s lawbreaking ways, as other cities had already done. But when the item came up for discussion, city manager Chris Meyer mysteriously got cold feet and proposed that the item be moved forward “to a date uncertain”. The council instantaneously and unanimously agreed to put this item off without further questioning. In fact, the council moved so quickly that a gentleman named Dr. Arnold Vagts had to demand his right to speak on the issue later that evening. Why were they so quick to sweep this item under the rug? It turns out that Dr. Vagts had sent a series of emails earlier in the day threatening a class action lawsuit against the city, demanding that the city return all illegal ticket revenues to the victims. If not, the city risks “millions of dollars in lawsuits”, according to Vagts.
  3. In June, after months of silence, we’re finally told us that the red light camera contract with Nestor has been canceled, and that all of the cameras will be removed.

Last week our Friend at HighwayRobbery.net made a records request to find out how much the city had spent on legal fees to fight this lost case. In a written reply to a direct question, Sgt. Steve Williams said “No legal council (sic) was retained to prosecute the case by the Fullerton police department.” We believe this to be either a blatant misdirection or perhaps an outright lie, since the city’s contract attorney did write the aforementioned 26-page writ for the case. Lawyers don’t work for free.

How much is this legal wrangling costing us? Why is the city spending time and money to fight a lost court case? We suspect that the legal liabilities and risk of expensive lawsuits are piling up while the city tries to keep this issue quiet.

To top it all off,  a successful class-action lawsuit against the city would probably leave taxpayers holding the bill for years of red light revenue, as it is unlikely that the city will be able to turn around and sue Nestor for their part in this tragedy. The company has severe financial problems, including a recent descent into receivership and failure to pay subcontractors for the installation of additional cameras in Fullerton.

When we lose a class action lawsuit, who will pay? Will anyone admit error and appologize for wasting our time and money? Stay tuned as more scandelous details come to light.

11 Replies to “Red Light Cameras Trashed, Legal Blunders Swept Under the Rug”

  1. If I’m reading this correctly, it means that the red light ticket my wife got last year was given out illegally. What a racket!

  2. fullertonians need to recall doc “scissorhands” jones and paper and glue clown quirk before they reduce our government to confetti and our downtown into a cardboard project

  3. I was disappointed the City does not respond to direct questions by citizens re Red Light Cameras and fixing the flawed Nestor Contract.

    I requested (“demand” is misleading) the City consider details of the Nestor Contract that were illegal. (There were several issues on this point besides the payment scheme). It is also worth noting that Nestor received 70% of the fine!

    I believe the red light camera procedures can be fixed without violating the law or citizens civil rights and could be done without the current increase in rear-end collisions. It would provide a nice, legitimate, income stream for the City.

    Since Nestor violated the law and did not perform all tasks of the contract, e.g., the ticket did not show the time-out-of- compliance as required (citizens get angry when they are only .1 sec out of compliance as was mine), the City could probably confiscate all of the cameras that are installed. Thus they get them free. As you have pointed out, Nestor does not have the finances to return all of the money they have illegally gotten. This income would more than pay for the operation costs and could be used for public safety programs.

    I suspect Sgt Williams told the truth when he stated that the FPD did not hire legal advice. Sgt Williams is knowledgeable about the legal aspects of red light cameras and has appeared in Court on cases so legal support was not needed. Moreover, the FPD would not appear in an Appeals case, the City Atty or contract lawyer would do that. The City had to pay for that as you state and it would be nice to know what that cost the City. There was no need to appeal that case unless the City wanted to continue to enforce the illegal contract.

    Even thought the City has apparently lost the Appeals case, that would not preclude them from using red light cameras if they decided to implement a legal procedure that they could admin themselves. After all, the cameras should be free!

    It is very hard to sue govt and there is a very short statute of limitations, which I found out (6 months!!!) Thus, unless class action cases are different, it is probably too late for any victims to sue the City. The City did make a lot of money on this and the actual amounts are public record.

    Can you post a copy of the 26 page Writ? I am interested in how they addressed the contract flaws, if at all. From what I have seen, they do not address the flaws but seek technical legal reasons such as statute of limitations to resolve the cases. Of course, if they are wrong, they cannot argue the facts. It is sad when there is no justice or honor, just sleazy legal technicalities that let the City illegally collect “fines” and are rubber stamped by most judges who also get a piece of the action. To date, no one in the City has answered, either in Court or in email, my accusations that the Nestor Contract was blatantly illegal on several issues.

    Arnold Vagts
    [email protected]

  4. Thank you Dr. Vagts. I fixed the link to the writ you asked about above, but I’ll link to it here as well: Fullerton Petition vs. Franco.

    Regarding Sgt Williams claiming the PD did not spend any money on the case, the public records request specifically applied to ALL departments of the city, not just the PD. Sgt. Williams attempted to answer only on behalf of the PD, presumably hoping that this half-truth would silence the requester. The gentleman at HighwayRobbery.net is far to persistent to be waylaid by such tactics. I’ll post more of his findings soon.

  5. If we really want to prevent accidents, install those cameras throughout City Hall to record numerous violations of logic and common sense. These cameras could also reveal shady and illegal practices in progress. Imagine how much money would be saved!

  6. Good find Mr. Peabody. Unfortunately for Mr. Honk, asking the city attorney if you can sue the city is probably not going to get you a thorough answer.

    I know there is a very short statute of limitations on red light tickets. Dr. Vagts has plenty of experience with appealing a red light ticket, perhaps he will come back and answer…

  7. The statute of limitation for govt agencies (Cities) is 6 months from the date of the ticket! You can appeal the traffic court conviction within 6 months of the conviction, but that does not delay any small claims court suits. I lost my small claims court suit based solely on that. My legal arguments of the illegal Nestor Contract were moot. This protects the govt from almost any misdeed. Fullerton Traffic Commissioner Allan Stone didnt even look at the Nestor Contract I submitted at Trial. I believe he is a corrupt Commissioner who can’t find a legitimate excuse for any violation.

    The Writ the City filed to appeal the dismissal of the red light camera citation was based, not on any facts of their misdeeds but on their claim they were not “notified”. This is fascinating since they did not appear at my Appeal, nor did the DA. Why should they risk arguing the facts when most Judges will rubber stamp the conviction. I do not believe they ever appear in these cases.

    Has the City responded to the Judge’s questions regarding their
    Writ? They will have to do that if they want to proceed with the appeal. Perhaps they will drop it now that they have stopped using the cameras. Can anyone find out what the status of the City’s Writ is and if they intend to continue?

    BTW, it is way too late for anyone to appeal their conviction (6 months, remember) and get a refund. But the City may still have a case against Nestor. Perhaps they can settle for Nestor’s cameras since Nestor is in receivership. This would be the least the City can do to compensate citizens for being ripped off.

    With the cameras, the City could actually implement a sane and safe system that could provide a legitimate income stream. A citizen committee could make sure that the system did not discriminate against older citizens the way the old one did or increase rear end collisions the way the old one did. It would easily pay for its operation and offset other City costs.

    Arnold
    [email protected]

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