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…
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.