Red-light camera appeals team revs up
Written by Meghan Mangrum on September 4, 2013
The City of Miami will soon hear dozens of red-light camera ticket appeals, after the Miami City Commissioner in July approved formation of a hearing board.
Commissioners voted to resume issuing tickets to drivers caught running certain red lights after several meetings filled with passionate supporters of the cameras – including local trauma center doctors and victims of car accidents caused by drivers running red lights.
The appeals are to be heard by one of five special masters of the City of Miami, one of whom is Victor De Yurre, who was a city commissioner from 1987 to 1995.
“We’ve spent the last couple of months learning more about the process, understanding the regulations that apply and setting up the systems internally,” said Francisco Garcia, director of the planning department, “and understanding what responsibilities are assigned to the police department and what to the planning and zoning department.”
The cameras have been re-activated since the city commission approved the resolution and have already triggered citations.
The police department initially reviews the citations for validity, according to Mr. Garcia. Then the driver receives the citation and is presented with three options.
The first option is to pay the ticket outright, the second is to appeal to the city’s board and the third is to ignore the citation and after 60 days “by default it becomes a uniform traffic violation and goes back to the county system,” Mr. Garcia said.
When the state passed legislation on red-light camera appeals it allowed for municipalities to choose how to handle the ticket citation appeals. One option was to form a code enforcement board and the other, chosen by Miami, was for special masters to be named to hear the cases.
Special masters are consultants contracted by the city through the traditional procurement process, Mr. Garcia said. They are required to be acting attorneys licensed by the Florida Bar.
Five such special masters were already under city contract: Maritza Alvarez, Jack Blumenfeld, Juan Carlos Cura, Victor De Yurre and Darcee Seigel.
Additional candidates to become special masters have applied and are being vetted, according to Mr. Garcia, as the city will need to rotate them from hearing the red-light appeals.
“Special masters have a certain allocation in time and hours per year,” Mr. Garcia said, “so as needed they will be rotated.”
It is unknown how many appeals the city will handle on average, though the first hearing won’t occur until an initial batch of about 60 appeals have been received.
“We don’t have an estimated number.… That is exactly what we are wrestling with.… That is the great unknown,” Mr. Garcia said. “So we are simply charged with being ready to handle the appeals.… We are set up to handle quite a large load.”
Before this system was set up, the county received about 1,200 appeals monthly, and though the city doesn’t expect that many, Mr. Garcia says he’s sure the city could handle it.
The city also hired three persons to deal with clerical processing of the appeals and court appearances, and the police department hired one new manager.
According to state legislation, the costs of managing the board or process can be covered by fees collected from the citations. The additional employees the city hired were considered during the budgeting process, and Mr. Garcia predicts that the revenue from fees will cover the cost of operating the system.
In addition, “there is flexibility provided by the state legislature for each municipality to adjust their fees,” Mr. Garcia said.
Currently a red-light citation fine is $119, according to Anel Rodriguez, planning department administrative assistant in charge of the red-light board. There is an additional court cost of $50 for those who appeal and are heard by the special master.
Mr. Rodriguez said those who have been cited and want to contest the citation will file an appeal with the city’s vendor, who will then schedule the particular day the appeal will be heard.
“Once the appeal is filed by the constituent, the vendor will schedule the appeal on a docket,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “Once they have roughly 30 appeals, they will then notify us that the total number of cases on this particular day has been reached.”
On the day of the appeal, the special master of the clerk of the court will explain the proceedings to those present, allowing for the showing of an example video that will illustrate the substantial evidence the videos provide.
“We expect that many will simply then take the opportunity to pay the fine at a reduced charge,” Mr. Garcia said. “Over time, the expectation is that as more people learn about the process they will simply pay the fine.”
If they still wish to appeal, the special master will call each person in order and review the video and ask how they plead.
Appeals can be based on extenuating circumstances such as a medical emergency, a woman in labor or the owner of the car not being the driver at the time of infraction.
In July, the state law took effect demanding that cities create their own appeals process for red-light camera violations. Miami commissioners, though still divided on the issue, approved the creation of the board July 25.