Broward County

It's a good day for those caught by red light cameras: tickets dismissed

One brought her passport to prove she was in Spain when she was supposedly caught on camera, running a red light at Australian Avenue and 25th Street. Another brought a note from church to prove that she was part of a funeral procession when she was nabbed at the same intersection.

Still another pointed out that the video being used to slap him with a $264 fine clearly showed his car was in the intersection when the signal changed from yellow to red, undeniable proof that he didn't run the light.

Dismissed. Dismissed. And dismissed.

In short, Tuesday was another good day in court for motorists and another bad day for officials of West Palm Beach and Palm Springs, who hung up the cameras at various intersections earlier this year in hopes of catching traffic scofflaws and making a little money in the process.

Of the roughly 50 people who appeared before traffic hearing officer John Kurtz, all walked away smiling, clutching a paper that cleared them of wrongdoing. Since people began challenging the tickets in October, the score now stands at: motorists, 198 (give or take a handful who didn't show up for their hearings); government, 56.

Assistant West Palm Beach Police Chief Dennis Crispo was nonplused when told of some of the latest arguments used to throw out the tickets.

"I'm at a loss for words," he said when reached after the hearing.

A handful of people won by using the videos to their advantage or by presenting evidence that they couldn't have been behind the wheel. But the lion's share won by cashing in on technical arguments raised by attorneys hired by others.

For instance, attorney Robyn Rappaport Weiss successfully argued that West Palm Beach should be forced to produce a certificate proving the cameras were installed in accordance with state law. Once Kurtz accepted her argument and the city couldn't produce the certificate, roughly 20 people waiting for their cases to be called instantly found themselves in the winner's circle.

As Kurtz called their names, they formed a conga line that ended with the court clerk handing them a sheet of paper that they had beat the ticket.

Most of those who won on the basis of Weiss's arguments, didn't appear to care about the details. They were just glad they won.

Those who launched their own defenses, however, had strong words about the program.

"It's totally messed up," said Tirzah Gabourel, who showed Kurtz her passport to prove she was in Barcelona, Spain on the day she supposedly ran the red light. Further, she said, the ticket said she was driving a Chevrolet and that she lived in Oklahoma.

"I don't own a Chevy and I don't live in Tulsa," the Riviera Beach woman said. Further, she said, pointing out that the majority of the people in the hearing were black and had been caught at Australian and 25th, she declared, "I think it's an attack on black people."

Todd Brown said he, too, suspects something about the light at the intersection. While most yellow lights last four to five seconds, the one at Australian and 25 lasts for two seconds, he said. He beat the ticket he got there because Kurtz couldn't see the traffic light on the video.

Oddly, Brown said, he was a big believer in the program. As a student at Florida State University, he wrote a paper, arguing that the cameras were a good way to improve highway safety. Now, he said, his view has changed.

"I have read the definition of entrapment and that's what it is," he said.

Crispo, however, said the city isn't trying to snare anyone improperly. The program is being run according to state law.

Charles Territo, a spokesman for American Traffic Solutions, agreed, blaming Kurtz for the problem. "Out of all of the judges in Florida that have heard these cases, it's unfortunate that this judge refuses to adhere to the clear guidelines established in the legislation," he said in a statement.

Crispo said the community service aides who represent the city at the hearing aren't trained to handle high-powered legal arguments from attorneys who represent motorists. He said he wants to have a conference call this week with officials at American Traffic Solutions and the city attorney's office in hopes of resolving the ongoing problems.

"Attorneys need to hash this out," he said.

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