BROOKSVILLE — Motorists with pending red-light camera citations rejoiced this month when a Hernando County judge decided to toss out right-on-red cases that came before him.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, however, was not pleased.
Bondi's office has filed a motion asking County Judge Donald E. Scaglione to set aside his orders dismissing 31 right-on-red cases from the city of Brooksville. Scaglione threw out the cases during his May 13 red-light camera docket on the grounds that the enforcement process for right-on-red cases is unconstitutional.
According to Bondi's May 23 motion, state law requires the attorney general to be notified and given an opportunity to be heard when a party alleges that a state law is unconstitutional. The motion asks Scaglione to order the 31 defendants to put their constitutional challenges in writing, then set a hearing to consider the challenges.
"(A) deprivation of such is a departure from the essential requirements of the law and due process," the motion says.
A spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office declined to comment on the motion, but said it's the first time that a right-on-red challenge has been raised in central Florida.
Scaglione also declined to comment. But local attorneys say they expect he will schedule a single hearing to give Bondi's office, the affected defendants and their attorneys the chance to present arguments. If Scaglione doesn't change his mind and lets his order stand, Bondi's office can appeal to the 5th District Court of Appeal.
In the meantime, nothing changes, but the number of affected cases is expected to increase. Scaglione is slated to hear another red-light camera docket on Monday.
"He's got to go through the process, but I don't think he's going to change his mind," said Brooksville attorney Kristie Ruppe, who represented a defendant in one of the May 13 cases. "I think his reasoning is solid."
The city of Brooksville has cameras monitoring 16 approaches at eight intersections. Scaglione is one of two county judges who hear uniform traffic citation cases.
On May 7, Scaglione issued an order stating why he would begin dismissing right-on-red cases. The order only applies to cases heard in his courtroom and does not affect cases he heard previously.
Scaglione called the portion of the state law dealing with right-on-red violations "vague (and) arbitrary and capricious." Because of that, he wrote, enforcing violations is unconstitutional and a violation of due process rights.
As part of the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act governing traffic camera programs, the Florida Legislature in 2010 created a defense that says a right turn on red without stopping is permissible if the turn is made "in a careful and prudent manner." But the law's failure to define those terms leads to arbitrary rulings, Scaglione wrote.
Because cities and counties come up with their own definitions, Scaglione wrote, "There is no consistency … between jurisdiction boundaries."
Finally, Scaglione contends, the current law violates the due process rights of citizens because a rolling right turn on red can result in two different outcomes depending on whether an officer stops a driver or the turn is caught on camera.
On May 13, during his first red-light camera docket after issuing the order, Scaglione warned the 31 defendants that his order could be appealed and overturned, in which case they would wind up back in court.
Peyton Hyslop, who represented roughly a third of the defendants on the docket, noted that the uniform traffic citations are brought by the state.
"So it's kind of ludicrous for the attorney general to say she doesn't know what's going on in court when the state of Florida is the one that filed the cases," Hyslop said. "Now they're saying, 'We don't like what happened, so let us have a chance to come,' when they didn't think it was worth their time to be there to begin with."
Reach Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.