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Red-light camera cases get official
New process extends appeals period from 30 to 60 days
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CLEARWATER – Nobody likes to receive a ticket for running a red light, and people who receive a camera-generated one in the mail seem to resent it more than those who receive one from a live cop. But until recently, Florida cities with red-light cameras had no uniform system of dealing with motorists who wanted to fight their tickets.

Earlier this year, State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, got a bill passed that requires municipalities that issue camera-generated tickets to have a system by which drivers who think they were wrongly ticketed can have their case heard and doubles the time in which to appeal from 30 days to 60 days.

Some municipalities hired outside lawyers to act as local hearing officers and others dumped the job on already overworked city officials

Clearwater, which began issuing red-light camera-generated tickets on Aug. 1, 2012, took the cheap route. Last June, it followed the lead of several other Florida cities and delegated the job to the unpaid volunteers of its Municipal Code Enforcement Board.

The board members tried to take on this new task, which City Attorney Pam Akin described as “a huge responsibility on top of what they already do,” but there was a backlog of 106 cases before they even got started. City officials soon realized that they were asking too much of unpaid volunteers.

They decided on another plan; city Clerk Rosemarie Call and her Official Records and Legislative Services staff would serve as clerks to the local hearing officers. They then set out to find a local hearing officer.

The City Attorney’s Office, City Manager’s Office and Police Department interviewed several applicants for the Local Hearing Officer and selected Nancy Mag, a staff memo to the council said.

A legal servicers agreement was negotiated, and Mag will hear red-light camera violations at an hourly rate of $150, with a minimum hearing session of two hours. The funds to pay the local hearing officer will come from the proceeds from red light camera infractions.”

According to The Florida Bar, Mag is a Stetson University law school graduate who received her law license on Nov. 6, 2007. She lives in Palm Harbor and there is no record of disciplinary action against her.

Critics of red-light cameras say that they are geared more toward revenue generation than they are toward preventing crashes, and it is true that they started springing up nationwide during the Great Recession, when falling property values real estate tax income plummeted. But that may be coincidental, and the real reason is that the technology for the cameras was perfected during the Great Recession.

Another criticism of the cameras is that they cause more crashes than they prevent, as motorists, fearing a ticket, slam on the brakes when the light turns yellow and get rear-ended by the car behind them. But there is evidence that rear-end collisions cause fewer and less severe injuries than the T-bone crashes caused by red-light runners.

Drivers who decide to fight their camera-generated tickets had better have convincing evidence. The same law that makes it easier to appeal a ticket gives the local hearing officer authority to add a fee of up to $250 for an unsuccessful appeal, on top of the $158 price of the ticket.
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