Attorneys for the cities of Aventura and Orlando appeared to make little headway defending their red light camera ordinances before the Florida Supreme Court.
Attorneys for the cities of Aventura and Orlando appeared to get little sympathy Thursday from the Florida Supreme Court on their arguments that they may enforce red light camera fines under a system that parallels but is not the same as state law.
Cases challenging the cities’ red light camera ordinance were consolidated for the hearing. The Third District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Aventura. The Fifth District ruled in favor of the driver in the Orlando case.
Attorneys for both cities argued they have home rule authority based on a municipality’s right to regulate the movement of traffic to use security devices including the traffic signal cameras.
The Legislature explicitly authorized red light cameras in 2010 and, as Justice Barbara Pariente noted, income from the fines was a motivating factor when lawmakers incorporated the cameras in state traffic control law. However, the cities insist this authority extends to discretionary powers over how regulated traffic is enforced.
Andrew Harris of Burlington & Rockenbach in West Palm Beach, attorney for Aventura defendant Richard Masone, insists the Aventura ordinance conflicts with state law and should be thrown out. He claimed the cities could not apply penalties beyond the state’s Uniform Traffic Control law, especially since they are arguably harsher than state law.
Aventura is allowed to put a lien on property, Harris said. Orlando does the same and authorizes suspension of professional licenses. These actions are expressly pre-empted by state law. He also protested a system that does not allow trial but goes straight to appeal before a special master.
“What we have here are additional penalties,” Harris said. “If that’s not express pre-emption, I don’t know what would be.”
Justice Charles Canady, employing that argument in debate with Aventura’s attorney, Edward Guedes of Weiss Serota Helfman in Coral Gables, noted a law that specified additional fines cities could impose. In contrast, the Uniform Traffic Control law does not have that option.
Guedes agreed with Canady about what the law said but contended the city’s actions don’t fall under the Uniform Traffic Control law.
“You’re saying you can create a parallel system?” Justice R. Fred Lewis asked.
Guedes insisted the state permitted cities to do so.
“They anticipated municipalities could eviscerate their system and create their own separate parallel system?” Lewis asked.
Pariente came back to whether penalties in this parallel system were in fact harsher than those applied in state law. Guedes said that if the Supreme Court “accepts the notion” that state law pre-empts what cities are doing, then pre-emption applies only to the kind of penalties imposed.
Canady would have none of it. What was left without the penalty, he asked.
“I don’t see how you can have this,” he said. “I don’t see that it makes a difference what the amount of the fine is, if it’s something that is additional to the process allowed.”
David King of King Blackwell Zehnder & Wermuth, arguing for Orlando, said the city fines are appropriate where the state is silent on the method of enforcement. He added the city system should be viewed as complimentary, not in conflict, with the state.
Again citing state law, Canady argued the Legislature was not silent, stating, “It is a flat prohibition on any additional fines, fees, surcharges.”
King acknowledged that but insisted the court is not dealing with a violation of the law. He tried to narrow legislative silence to enforcement specific to security devices. “Our position is that we’re entitled to act. Silence is not prohibitory; it’s permissive.
“It is a parallel system,” King conceded. “And if you don’t buy the parallel system, you don’t buy our case.”
In fiscal year 2013, the state collected $52 million, or 53 percent of revenue from red light cameras, in 76 jurisdictions.
The Florida League of Cities, which submitted a friend of the court brief, asked the court to quash the Fifth District decision, arguing Orlando properly exercised its authority.
Approving the Fifth District decision would run against the presumption that local governments legislate on matters affecting health, safety and welfare, and it would “stifle both the ability and willingness of local legislatures to pursue new programs and new technologies to protect the safety of their citizens,” the league said.