June 17--The city of Spokane has not refunded traffic ticket money a judge ruled was wrongfully collected using red-light cameras, and is still trying to collect from drivers who haven't paid, according to a lawsuit filed last week.
A lawsuit involving potentially thousands of drivers asks the city to repay two and a half years' worth of tickets, worth $124 each, which could amount to $2.1 million.
Judge Jerome Leveque ruled in June 2011 that red-light camera tickets for running red lights or improper turns were signed out of state, a violation of state law.
The city corrected that issue but hasn't paid back the tickets issued from 2008 to 2011.
Dean Chuang, the lawyer who filed the suit and also successfully argued the 2011 case, said drivers who were illegally issued tickets are now under threat from collections agencies.
"The city wrongly took money from the people, and we're just asking them to pay it back," Chuang said. "A lot of these people don't have the means or the knowledge to pursue this kind of suit. ... A lot of people didn't know what to do about it."
City Attorney Nancy Isserlis declined to comment on the pending litigation.
The red-light cameras have been controversial, and yet city officials credit the surveillance with reducing accidents.
From November 2008 until Leveque's ruling, the lawsuit contends, vehicles that ran a red light were logged into a Web-based citation processing system called Axsis, which officers could access with a unique ID and password. If a violation was confirmed, officers hit a button that electronically added their signature.
But that signature was added by American Traffic Solutions, an Arizona company contracted by the city to install and maintain the cameras at selected intersections, and mailed.
Chuang argued that state law requires that any signature signed under penalty of perjury must be written in Washington.
Leveque, overturning a lower-court decision, told the city to stop collecting on tickets issued prior to his ruling and repay all the people who were illegally issued tickets.
The city responded by moving the printing of the tickets to Spokane, but former City Attorney Howard Delaney challenged the ruling. Delaney said only the three tickets involved in the 2011 case would be refunded, and motorists who wanted a refund needed to individually file a suit.
The state Court of Appeals and the Washington state Supreme Court declined to take up the case.
Chuang said he filed suit because "people weren't going to get their money back, it seemed like." He'll be seeking class-action status, he said.
Chuang estimates between 17,000 and 18,000 people received red-light traffic tickets during that time.
Jeri Mainer, a resident of Spokane County who paid the fine before Leveque's decision, is the only named individual plaintiff in the suit. She paid the $124 violation in February 2011, four months before the ruling, and tried to get the money back as recently as January 2013, according to the lawsuit.
Copyright 2014 - The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.