Florida Supreme Court justices seemed skeptical Wednesday of a challenge to red-light camera programs in which private companies look over footage and forward potential violations to police.
Luis Torres Jimenez sued the city of Aventura after receiving a traffic citation based on footage reviewed by a third-party vendor. But he does not dispute that he turned right on red, ignoring a sign prohibiting the turn.
“If he violated the statute, I don’t see what he has to complain about,” Justice Charles Canady told Jimenez’s attorney, Stephen Rosenthal of Podhurst Orseck in Miami.
The case came before the high court after the Third District Court of Appeal ruled the program was constitutional because police officers were reviewing the record before deciding to issue a citation, and not just rubber-stamping the private company’s decision.
An earlier Fourth DCA decision found Hollywood’s program improperly delegated police power, but the Supreme Court said the cases were distinguishable and did not directly conflict.
Rosenthal argued Aventura’s program delegated the power to make a substantive review of the tickets to a private vendor. The company decides about 30 percent to 40 percent of tickets will not go on to the police to be reviewed because the images are unusable or don’t meet the standards set by the city for a possible violation, he said.
While those discarded images are available to the police, in a practical sense they can’t be reviewed because “the city would be overwhelmed,” Rosenthal said.
Justice Barbara Pariente said every municipality has to make decisions about how to use its manpower — there can’t be a police officer sitting at every intersection.
“That means that every day in this state, there are red-light violators that are going undetected in those cities that have no red-light camera because they don’t have the manpower to catch everyone. … I’m not getting your standing, even, to assert that they’re not putting more people into the violator pile,” Pariente said.
Rosenthal argued any resident would have standing to challenge the red-light camera program because “all cases in the city of Aventura are passed through an unconstitutional filter.” He argued state law preempted the city from delegating “review” powers to a private company.
Florida Solicitor General Amit Agarwal told the court Aventura’s rules expressly direct the outside vendor to forward the images to the police if it’s “anything even remotely resembling a close call.” Only the police can make a finding of probable cause, he said.
“This is all about the exercise of the state’s police power, and that police power as relevant here is the power to issue a citation,” Agarwal said.
Aventura attorney Edward Guedes of Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman in Coral Gables, who is involved in a number of red-light camera cases, argued the Wandall Act allows for substantive “review” of an image. He said that doesn’t just mean looking at the footage for fun.
“There’s some level of assessment that has to be conducted as part of a review,” he said.
Louis Arslanian of the Ticket Clinic in Hollywood and Podhurst Orseck associate Lisa Lauck joined Rosenthal at oral arguments.
On the government side, Agarwal and Guedes were joined by Samuel Zeskind of Weiss Serota in Fort Lauderdale and Senior Assistant Attorney General Robert Dietz.
The session was the court’s first foray into livestreaming oral arguments on Facebook Live.