NEW PORT RICHEY — A county judge who ruled red-light cameras unconstitutional has taken a step back to let a higher court step in.
Pasco County Judge Anne Wansboro had tossed out a citation Feb. 17 against Thomas Filippone. He had argued that the state red-light camera law was unconstitutional because it put the burden of proof on defendants to identify the driver who ran the light in their car.
But after the charge was dropped, attorneys for Port Richey and New Port Richey, which both have red-light cameras along U.S. 19, said they were not notified of the challenge or given the chance to argue in favor of the law. Neither was the Florida Attorney General's Office, which is required to be contacted when a state law's constitutionality faces a court challenge.
The Attorney General's Office filed a motion to intervene and asked the judge to set aside dismissing Filippone's ticket, which he received after a camera snapped a picture of his Nissan Altima running a red light on U.S. 19 in Port Richey.
Wansboro granted the request on April 20. In a joint ruling with County Judge Candy VanderCar, who presided in a separate red-light case, Wansboro said the attorney general is an "indispensable party" and is "entitled to be heard."
She also said she wanted to wait for a circuit court panel to decide an appeal in a separate red-light camera case filed by Gerald White, a retired police officer who also received a citation.
White has argued the law violated the equal protection clause because a red-light camera citation carries different fines than a police traffic stop.
Red-light cameras have been controversial since they first went up.
At stake are millions of dollars in revenue for local governments that collect the $158 civil citations. So far, court rulings have been mixed. Last year, three Hillsborough judges ruled that the county and Temple Terrace are using valid methods of enforcing tickets and collecting fines.
Port Richey City Attorney Joe Poblick said the city is satisfied with Wansboro setting aside her ruling and thinks the red-light cameras will be upheld on appeal.
"I'm confident that the city was within the bounds of constitutionality of the statute," he said.
Filippone said his case should not be linked to White's because they raise different issues. He also said a county judge has the right to rule on constitutionality.
"The constitution has not changed. Nothing has changed from February to April," he said.
However, Filippone, a former New Jersey lawyer who said he plans to take his challenge to the state's highest court if necessary, plans to ask that he be allowed to intervene as it may affect his case.
"I think I should have standing," he said. "If the court is going to hear arguments in Mr. White's case, I think I should be there, too."