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Pasco judge challenges constitutionality of red light cameras

PORT RICHEY — Thomas Filippone said he doesn't think people should run red lights.

But when he received a citation in the mail from the city of Port Richey saying he was caught on camera running one, the former New Jersey insurance attorney decided not to pay the $158 ticket without a fight. He filed his own 11-page motion to dismiss the ticket, arguing Florida law unconstitutionally places the burden of proof on defendants.

"If they are going to prove I was driving the car, it's their duty under the law to prove the identity of the driver," said Filippone, 45, who maintains his 2002 Nissan Altima crossed the intersection a split second before the light turned red on April 15. "It unjustly shifts burden to me and makes me shoulder the burden of having to prove their case."

Pasco County Judge Anne Wansboro agreed. On Feb. 17, she dismissed the charge, saying in her order that the law "impermissibly shifts the burden of proof to the Defendant and therefore does not afford due process, and is unconstitutional to the extent due process is not provided."

Her order has officials in areas with red light cameras taking notice, but no one is taking down cameras yet.

Especially not those in Port Richey, where officials plan to appeal Wansboro's ruling.

"We do not agree with the decision," said City Manager Tom O'Neill, who said the city was not notified of any constitutional challenge to its two red light cameras on U.S. 19. "It would be our position that we were not afforded due process and did not have the opportunity to speak."

Wansboro did not return a message Tuesday for comment.

Port Richey city attorney Joe Poblick said officials have also notified the Florida Attorney General's Office of the ruling. The state Constitution requires that the attorney general be notified whenever a state statute's constitutionality is at issue.

Because the order struck down the law on constitutional grounds, any appeal would have to be made to the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

Brad Weissman, deputy Fort Lauderdale city attorney, said his city has a ruling from Broward County Judge Steven Deluca that says the opposite of Wansboro's order.

"It won't have any effect on us," he said.

Officials in New Port Richey, which also has red light cameras along U.S. 19, discussed the order but said they plan to wait and see.

"I didn't really understand why the judge threw it out," City Manager John Schneiger said of the rule. "That's something we are going to have to look into."

St. Petersburg transportation services director Joe Kubicki said officials also will be keeping tabs.

"We don't see it impacting us," he said. "If it survives the appeals process, then we'll look at our 23 cameras."

It's the same in Hillsborough.

"This is not the first court that has ruled it unconstitutional," said Hillsborough County Sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon. "We're going to keep operating as we have been."

Brooksville city attorney Robert "Butch" Battista said he had not seen the court ruling and couldn't say how it might affect the ongoing class-action lawsuit filed against the city and American Traffic Solutions in 2009.

Filippone said it should at the very least benefit him and other Pasco drivers.

"I don't think I should get another red light ticket in Pasco County for the rest of my life," he said. "In my opinion, it's precedent."

He said he plans to use it on April 11, when he is due to go to traffic court for a second red light citation at another Port Richey intersection.

Not only should his own citation be dismissed, he plans to argue, but so should the citation for everyone else in the courtroom with a red light camera ticket.

"I'm looking forward to going to court," he said. "I know a lot of people who are infuriated."

Staff writers Jessica Vander Velde and Logan Neill, correspondent Robert Napper and researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

Pasco judge challenges constitutionality of red light cameras 03/20/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 10:33pm]
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