Lawsuit filed over red light camera study

The red light camera study is less than a month old, and already it’s the subject of a lawsuit by a couple of longtime camera critics.

Houston lawyers Paul Kubosh and Randall Kallinen, who have fought the program in courts before, are asking a state district judge to compel the city to release what they say was an August 2008 draft of the report by Rice University professor Bob Stein.

They say the public should see the previous version of the report, as well as the final version to be released next week, so the conclusions can be trusted. The city has said that earlier copies were in draft form, and, therefore, not subject to disclosure.

“A city cannot label a document ‘draft,’ and thereby make it not available to the public,” said Joe Larsen, a media law attorney and open-records advocate who represents Kubosh and Kallinen. “Otherwise, any governmental body would be in a position of taking out a rubber stamp, putting a stamp on any document, and excluding the public from taking a look and forming their own conclusions.”

Kubosh and Kallinen announced the suit, which uses a Texas Supreme Court decision against the city of Garland, in a Friday news conference.

Mayor Bill White’s office attacked the lawsuit as a publicity stunt.

“He’s obviously doing some self-promoting,” mayoral spokesman Frank Michel said of Kubosh, who defends motorists in Municipal Courts. “We can only assume this is a P.R. exercise by someone who makes a living defending in traffic court.”

Michel said the report originally was due in late summer, but city officials found flaws in its data based on recordkeeping anomalies. Some wrecks on freeways, for example, were coded as though they happened at the monitored intersections below the freeways.

I don’t know what the case law looks like here – I don’t know what the lawsuit against Garland was about, but I recall one from a time before SB1119, which expressly condoned cities’ usage of red light cameras; maybe that’s what this refers to – so I don’t know who may or may not have a leg to stand on. In general, I’m very sympathetic to the idea that “draft” reports should be public as well. For sure, if Rick Perry were making the claim that earlier versions of the report needn’t be disclosed, I’d be highly skeptical of it. I suspect this is a lot of fuss over nothing, and that releasing the earlier version would demonstrate that as well as being the better course of action.

On the other hand, when you’re being accused from the beginning of making stuff up, it’s not hard to understand why there might be some resistance to giving these guys what they want.

Both Kallinen and Kubosh said they would drop their objection to the camera if both versions of the study showed a safety increase, provided that the researchers factored in both broadside collisions and rear-end collisions. The pair suggested in their news conference that city officials could have massaged the data.

Kubosh reacted strongly when challenged on whether there was evidence of such manipulation.

“If they give us the report, then we’ll shut up,” he said. “We’re here because the city wouldn’t give up the information. They hold on to it like it’s their information and not the public’s.”

“Massaging the data” is a pretty strong charge to make, and it seems clear from Kubosh’s response that they have no evidence to back that up at all. That’s irresponsible, and it damages their otherwise meritorious claim that the draft report ought to be public information as well. I already thought the Kuboshes were cranks, so I can’t say I’m surprised by that, but this has done nothing to improve my opinion of Randall Kallinen. There’s plenty of legitimate grounds on which to criticize the TTI study. Making claims like this without any apparent evidence to support it just makes you look desperate.

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3 Responses to Lawsuit filed over red light camera study

  1. baby snooks says:

    Given the fact that some of these lights seem to go from green to red and skip yellow they have a point which everyone is overlooking. Some will slam on the brakes as soon as they see yellow and the car behind may not realize they are going to slam on the brakes assuming instead that they will be able to “make the yellow” as well. Result? They “rear-end” the car in front of them.

    One would assume the number of “broad-side” accidents have decreased. But the number of “rear-end” accidents have probably increased and increased signficantly. Far exceeding any “gain” in safety as a result.

    But then safety is not the motivation behind the cameras. Generating money is the motivation behind the cameras.

  2. John Cobarruvias says:

    the Kuboshes ARE cranks. BIG ONES!

  3. Trafficnerd says:

    The lawsuit is related to the Rice University/TTI study funded soley by the City of Houston to look at Houston intersections.

    The “study” released last month was prepared by TTI, and funded by TxDOT and utilized data submitted by the various Cities pursuant to state law requiring them to submit crash data to TxDOT.

    Two entirely different issues.

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