A Roseland law firm is planning to file a class-action lawsuit on behalf of those who have received tickets for running red lights at most of the intersections in the state where there are red light cameras, one of the firm’s lawyers said last week.
“The statute that was promulgated requires that the cameras be inspected and certified. The state Department of Transportation suspended intersections in 21 towns because they weren’t doing this,” said David Paris of Paris, Ackerman and Schmierer. “Here we have the state basically saying these towns were not in compliance.”
In June, the state Department of Transportation ordered that the issuance of tickets at 63 of the 85 intersections with red light cameras be suspended because questions arose over whether the timing of the lights had been properly calibrated and the results properly certified. The legislation governing red light cameras requires municipalities to test the duration of yellow lights every six months based on a formula incorporating the average speed motorists travel when approaching a particular intersection.
In late July, the state deemed all cameras in compliance, including all 19 in Newark, where the red light camera program began in 2009. Altogether, 21 of 25 communities with red light cameras had been affected by the suspension.
The cameras have led to other lawsuits in New Jersey and elsewhere in the country, often on constitutional grounds, Paris said. His firm, however, plans to take a different tack, arguing that since there had been doubt over whether violations had actually occurred at the time tickets were being issued, those tickets should never have been issued in the first place.
“If they want to right the ship now, more power to them,” Paris said. “But you can’t apply this retroactively.”
The firm has already filed on behalf of individuals ticketed in Newark, Edison and several other communities, and is seeking plaintiffs in Roselle Park, Wayne, Jersey City and Springfield, Paris said late last week. The firm aims to have clients in every town where cameras were suspended within the next few weeks, then plans on asking a judge to certify a class.
“Our class is based on unjust enrichment. The state and the communities have unlawfully benefitted,” Paris said, adding that the firm will seek financial relief as well as remedies to ensure that testing and certification be conducted appropriately.
The potential size of the class is huge: in Newark alone in 2010, the city collected $3 million in fines, $85 at a time.
City officials did not respond to questions emailed last week, but earlier this summer, when the suspensions were first announced, traffic engineer Jack Nata told The Star Ledger that Newark’s cameras and intersections had been properly tested. After getting certifications from Newark since 2008, the state had only this year notified the city about problems in the way the certifications had been worded, Nata also said.
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