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The city vs ATS

Here’s an update on the red light camera lawsuit in which the city is seeking guidance on how to go about terminating its contract with red light camera vendor ATS, and ATS is seeking to overturn the referendum.

“We were obligated to terminate the contract by virtue of the election,” City Attorney David Feldman said.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes ordered both sides to produce additional arguments next week about the legality of the referendum. Hughes may make a ruling on that matter before the end of the year, Feldman said, noting that the court will deal later with the question of whether the city properly terminated its contract with ATS.

ATS has argued that the referendum was invalid because it inappropriately used state law to supersede provisions in the city’s charter. The proper process for red-light camera opponents would have been to try to overturn the law authorizing the devices within 30 days of its passage, as the charter allows, the ATS team argued in its brief.

The company also has questioned whether a public referendum can overturn public safety laws. An example they have cited is whether people could vote not to wear seat belts or vote away rules on child safety seats.

The questions about the charter have been discussed in detail here, and you know where I stand on litigating that now as opposed to before the election. I remain interested in what the judge has to say, but at this point I don’t think it should affect the outcome. Mayor Parker says that the city won’t resume collecting fines from the cameras if the judge overturns the election, though given the city’s budget situation I think she’ll have a hard time sticking to that if the city winds up on the hook for a few million bucks.

The other question, about whether a public referendum can overturn public safety laws, strikes me as not relevant. For one thing, I thought it was already well established that state law trumped local statutes. But hey, maybe this will kick off a “cities’ rights” movement, to get our great municipalities out from under the yoke of those tyrannical state governments. Something tells me Rick Perry won’t be out in front of that parade. Anyway, the use of red light cameras isn’t state law in the way that mandating seat belt and child seat usage is, so I don’t see how the nullification question matters, at least from ATS’ perspective. We’ll see what the judge has to say.

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  1. mollusk says:

    Again, the safety argument is a canard. You want to avoid intersection T bones? Lengthen the yellow wherever there seems to be a problem. That also does away with the rear enders caused by people jamming on the brakes. Doesn’t fit in well with the “loser pays” model of taxation by fee and fine, or with crony capitalism, but hey – what’s perfect?

    Oh well, at least we still have Lights in the Heights.

  2. JJ says:

    Could we amend the city charter to forbid Houston police from making arrests for drunk driving? How about amend the charter to provide for no use of tasers? How about HPD will not respond to domestic violence calls, but instead a social worker will be scheduled for a visit within the next week?