Government

Iowa Supreme Court gets 2 traffic camera cases next week

In all, high court has four cases pending on automated cameras

Semis travel north Oct. 9, 2013, on Interstate 380 through Cedar Rapids. Because semis carry rear loads, their license plates are on the front of the vehicle — so many semis cannot be ticketed by speed cameras, which take photos of rear license plates. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Semis travel north Oct. 9, 2013, on Interstate 380 through Cedar Rapids. Because semis carry rear loads, their license plates are on the front of the vehicle — so many semis cannot be ticketed by speed cameras, which take photos of rear license plates. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Four rulings expected from the Iowa Supreme Court in the coming months could have a sweeping impact on how automated traffic cameras are used in Iowa — if they are allowed at all.

The cases, two of which the state’s high court will receive next week, explore the constitutionality of the cameras through several different lenses, such as whether cities or the state has jurisdiction over the automated cameras on primary highways and interstates; motorists’ due process; and equal protection for motorists versus government vehicles and semi-trailer truck drivers, who in effect are exempt from the tickets.

“It is certainly possible the court is collecting similar cases coming up and could issue a major decision,” said Mark Kende, director of the Constitutional Law Center at Drake University.

He noted he has no insider knowledge and it could all be a coincidence, as well. However, he said courts at times hold cases together where one ruling could impact another.

A court ruling could provide clarity for the fate of the cameras, which law enforcement tout for their safety benefits but critics ridicule as a money making scheme. That would be something Iowa legislators have failed to do so far in the last few sessions, despite spirited efforts.

The Iowa Supreme Court announced Thursday it had retained the case of Reuven Weizberg, David Peter Veng-Pedersen and Jacob Patrick Dagel vs. the City of Des Moines and GATSO USA. A lower court ruled Des Moines violated the due process rights of the plaintiffs, who had appealed tickets, by holding administrative appeal hearings not authorized in city code. Other arguments were rejected, and both sides have appealed.

The case has been assigned for submission to the court at 1:30 p.m. April 10, but without oral arguments. It’s the second traffic camera case on the docket that day.

The case of Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Muscatine vs. the Iowa Department of Transportation over who has jurisdiction over the cameras, along with other arguments, already had been scheduled at the same time. Attorneys will have 15 minutes per side to make arguments.

The high court has yet to rule on two other cases heard last fall involving motorists who’d received tickets. The cases — City of Cedar Rapids vs. Marla Leaf, and Myron Behm et al. vs. City of Cedar Rapids and Gatso USA — contest the legality of the cameras through due process and equal protection laws.

Court watchers say it would be logical the justices are waiting to hear all the arguments in all four cases before ruling.

“Since they involve constitutional questions about the operation of traffic cameras, it is possible that the court is holding back the Leaf decision so that the two opinions can be released on the same day,” said Gary Dickey Jr., a lawyer and managing member of the Dickey & Campbell Law Firm in Des Moines.

Rox Laird, who contributes to On Brief: Iowa’s Appellate Blog, noted, “It seems logical they might be waiting to hear all of the cases. I can’t imagine them issuing an opinion in one before they’ve heard all the arguments.”

Laird followed the Leaf hearing last September. He recalled Justice David Wiggins questioned the equal protection argument. Motorists such as Leaf, who contends she wasn’t speeding when she received a $75 ticket, are subject to tickets but drivers of semi-trailers are in practice exempt because they generally don’t have rear facing license plates on their trailers. The cameras snap pictures of the rear license plate as part of the ticketing process.

“Similarly situated people have to be treated equally,” Wiggins said at the hearing, according to Laird’s blog last September. “How does this pass constitutional muster?”

Laird anticipates rulings in the four cases by the end of June.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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