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Caught on Camera Running a Red? Many Now Are Fighting — and Winning

Revenues from fines are way down. The city will dispense with the cameras altogether by September.

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version said the contract with American Traffic Systems expires in September, as Mayor Larry Kramer said last week, however, the city has not decided yet whether to renew. Also, we have added new information about revenue generated from the fines in prior years.

The amount of money the city makes off of fines from people who run red lights outfitted with cameras has gone way down, city officials report.

But it’s not that you’ve been obeying traffic laws any better. It’s that more of the scofflaws are fighting the tickets in court, said City Attorney Omar Sandoval.

“What people are figuring out is that if you hire an attorney, you’re going to get your case dismissed,” Sandoval told the council.

San Juan Capistrano has two intersections that use red-light cameras: the Ortega Highway-Del Obispo Street intersection and the Del Obispo-Camino Capistrano intersection.

At last week’s City Council meeting, Cindy Russell, chief financial officer for the city, reviewed a number of revenue sources as part of a financial report to the council.

For the record, sales tax receipts are up, property taxes are flat, “transient occupancy” fees (i.e. hotel taxes) are up thanks to a sooner-than-expected opening of the Residence Inn, developer permit fees are down and fines from the red-light cameras have plummeted, she said.

A report the council received said fines are down $280,000 this year alone.

The peak year for revenues from this system was in 2009-10, totaling approximately $420,000, according to Lt. John Meyer, chief of police services for San Juan Capistrano. Last year, that figure dropped by $100,000, to about $320,000.

Sandoval said that judges at the  have required that a prosecutor be present for any disputed ticket because an Orange County Sheriff’s deputy cannot put himself on the stand for self-examination.

Because running a red light is a violation of the California Vehicle Code, prosecution would normally be the responsibility of the Orange County District Attorney’s office, Sandoval said. But officials there said they would not be able to take on the workload and have offered to “deputize” the city attorney’s staff.

However, “the cost of having our office prosecute is not worthwhile,” Sandoval said.

Ticketed drivers, on the other hand, have a bigger financial incentive to hire an attorney because they are looking to get out of paying the fine, plus the cost of traffic school, Sandoval said.

Patch found several law firms that specifically target a client base with tickets from red-light cameras. 

John Smith May 17, 2012 at 01:06 AM
Got one and the wife got one at a later time. We never went online and never called. Just threw them away. I was told by my brother who is a corp. atty that they have no proof of recpt of the ticket if I don't let it be known. This was over 6 months ago and I even went and renewed my driver’s license the other day without a problem. They are supposed to send someone out to your home and physically give you the ticket if they don't hear from you or have you registered as going online to prove you got the ticket. DON'T DO ANYTHING WITH IT! THROW IT OUT AND DO NOT LOOK IT UP ONLINE!
Hercules1944 June 02, 2012 at 05:47 PM
http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/16/1688.asp Califonia again is way off in space. Most states have already declred red light cameras unconstitutional. Basic premise of the American Judisprudence System is that you have a right to face your accuser in a court of law and your accuser has to prove you are guilty, not the reverse like you see with red light cameras. Can a camera testify in court? Can a camera be cross examined? I think not. BTW: I live in Minnesota. I signed up with the patch to follow the SGT Manny Loggins murder. Repeat-MURDER. I taint following OCSD statements.
Diane Askew June 16, 2012 at 06:05 AM
The "idiot" was Lon Uso, and I don't agree with that label for him, V. (Do I detect some anger in your response, V?) Perhaps he was off a second, but it's still close to impossible to stop in 3 seconds. To answer your question, Penny, the numbers he quoted me were in the mid six figures. He said that he had opposed the red light cameras when it was proposed they be installed and that the city council overruled him. He was very candid and open about the situation, which I appreciated. He also said that he had many letters from tourists who said they would never come back to Capistrano after getting one of those tickets or being involved in an accident from someone slamming on their brakes to try to stop in time. This was in May or June of 2010.
Penny Arévalo June 16, 2012 at 01:11 PM
Hi Diane, Here's the update: http://sanjuancapistrano.patch.com/articles/staff-dump-the-red-light-cameras The cameras will soon be history. Staff said at the height of income, the city was making about $400,000 a year (although expenses are quite high, as a deputy has to review the photos).
Greg December 04, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Diane, I too was ripped off for over $550, is there a class action case and possible refunds that you know of? Greg

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