To read the ruling of Orange County Superior Court Commissioner Kenneth Schwartz, the city of Santa Ana has been issuing tickets off red-light cameras illegally since their 2003 debut, but according to the court's website police officers continued writing citations after Schwartz's ruling was filed on Aug. 5.
Schwartz found David Murray and Lori Ann Alecnavicius not guilty of violating Vehicle Code section 21453(a)—failing to stop at a red signal light—at the intersections of Bristol Street and Edinger Avenue and Dyer Road and Pullman Avenue respectively. Both defendants had been issued tickets by the city of Santa Ana through the automated enforcement system—commonly referred to as red-light cameras—at those intersections.
The city complied with the state vehicle code in 2003 when the first red-light cameras were introduced with public notification and 30-day warning periods for drivers who were photographed running red lights. The city subsequently installed red-light cameras at other intersections without notifying the public or imposing the same 30-day warning periods as required under the vehicle code, Schwartz ruled.
Huntington Beach attorney Allen Baylis, who represented both defendants, argued in Alecnavicius' case that a police officer should have been precluded from testifying because the compensation clause in the contract the city entered in December 2002 with red-light camera company Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. also violates the vehicle code. Writing that he "generally agrees" with that contention, Schwartz stated his ruling was more strongly based on the lack of warning periods and public notifications for cameras installed at new intersections.
It's unclear what the city makes of all this—other than ignoring Schwartz's ruling, apparently. No one was available at the city attorney's office when the Weekly called. Baylis says the city attorney did file a letter brief the morning Schwartz made his ruling, but by then it was too late.
"The city is standing by their interpretation of the law even though courts a number of times have ruled there must be notification," Baylis said. "I'd suggest the city attorney is giving bad legal advice to the city and the police department. . . . It's their way of doing business, I guess."
In his ruling, Schwartz mentioned that several other red-light cases from Santa Ana were pending. According to Baylis, they are being dismissed as well, and Schwartz indicated to him that anyone who has received such a citation over at least the past six months can get their tickets dismissed also.
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"I'd say going to the clerk's window and paying is a bad idea," Baylis said.
And yet, while speaking with the Weekly, Baylis did a quick check of the court website and discovered tickets based on photograph shot by the same red-light cameras were still being issued on Aug. 7—two days after Schwartz's ruling.
"Again, this goes to their level of arrogance, I think, in continuing to file these cases," said Baylis, who should be familiar to Weekly readers as the same attorney who defended nude sunbathers at San Onofre State Beach. "I know at least one judge has told them what they have been doing is wrong."
The Santa Ana Police Department cannot feign ignorance, according to the attorney, because police officers were present in the court when Schwartz ruled against the city. "It's not like they're unaware of it," Baylis said.