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Originally published June 25, 2009 at 4:20 PM | Page modified June 25, 2009 at 11:10 PM

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2nd suit takes on red-light cameras, 20 cities

A second lawsuit taking on red-light cameras alleges that 20 Washington cities and camera manufacturers have written "what amounts to fake tickets" to thousands of drivers.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A second lawsuit taking on red-light cameras alleges that 20 Washington cities and camera manufacturers have written "what amounts to fake tickets" to thousands of drivers.

Steve Rosen and two other attorneys filed a class-action lawsuit Thursday in King County Superior Court against two camera companies and 20 cities.

The lawsuit says the cities entered into illegal profit-making deals with camera manufacturers. Contracts for most of the cities guaranteed enough tickets to cover the cost of the cameras, and cities agreed to share proceeds from additional tickets, an attorney for the plaintiffs said.

A Bainbridge Island law firm filed a similar class-action suit Tuesday. Both lawsuits are still seeking plaintiffs and want the cities to refund ticketed drivers millions of dollars in fines.

Both lawsuits take aim at what the attorneys say is a misinterpretation of the 2005 state law that allows cities to use the cameras. The law says cities should fine car owners no more than what they can fine them for parking tickets.

Instead, cities fine motorists caught on camera running red lights the same amount they would pay if a police officer saw them run the lights.

Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr said Wednesday that the city charges as much as $250 for parking infractions, so the $124 ticket for running a red light is within the bounds of the law.

The lawsuit filed Thursday says the contracts between the cities and the camera manufacturers "give the cities and the vendors an illegal incentive to issue improper tickets and to err on the side of issuing a ticket versus declining to issue the ticket."

Carr said the cameras are a good deterrent and studies have shown a decline in the number of people running lights at intersections with cameras. For that reason, he said, "it's not a revenue-raiser."

Seattle put up six cameras at four intersections in 2006. By the end of August, there will be 30. The city ticketed 58,000 drivers in the first three years and collected almost $5 million in fines.

Andrea Robertson, an attorney who worked with Rosen on the case, said it's clear from the negotiations between cities and camera manufacturers Redflex Traffic Solutions and American Traffic Solutions that "for the most part, this is seen as a profit measure for these cities."

Along with Seattle, the other cities being sued are: Auburn, Bellevue, Bremerton, Burien, Federal Way, Fife, Issaquah, Lacey, Lake Forest Park, Lakewood, Lynnwood, Monroe, Moses Lake, Puyallup, Renton, SeaTac, Spokane, Tacoma and Wenatchee.

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Spokane City Attorney Howard Delaney said money from their traffic-camera tickets goes to traffic-calming projects, which contribute to public safety.

Robertson's lawsuit also says the tickets are "fake" because they never go through a city court. The camera companies write and issue many of the tickets, sometimes with misleading or incomplete information about how to contest them, Robertson said.

Delaney said that, in Spokane, the red-light company reviews the photos from the cameras and sends probable violators to the city. Tickets are issued by a Spokane police officer, he said.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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