St. Petersburg's lawyer urges caution on red-light refunds

Published May 10, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — The city's legal department issued a memo Friday that could curb the City Council's intention to refund money to drivers who received red-light tickets at intersections with incorrectly timed yellow lights.

Assistant City Attorney Joe Patner suggested drivers who could show the yellow light timing was improper might be able to challenge a citation in a hearing if they filed a motion under rule 1.540 of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure.

But he cautioned the council from acting on its own to give the refunds.

"As such a refund, without a legal determination of entitlement to a refund, may be considered a use of funds not for a public purpose which is a violation of the State Constitution," Patner wrote to the council, which voted in March to turn off the cameras this year and explore refunds.

Because the red-light camera is a state-authorized program, Patner said, any refunds should be through state-authorized rules and procedures.

Council member Wengay Newton, long a vocal critic, said the legal opinion will not deter him. He thinks the city should give refunds since it made the mistake in the yellow times.

"You have law-abiding citizens that got duped," he said. "That's why I keep bringing it up."