CEDAR RAPIDS — Conservative radio personality Simon Conway is the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit filed on Wednesday contesting 221,000 notices for unpaid Cedar Rapids traffic camera tickets sent out days before Christmas as “fatally flawed.”
The unpaid tickets date back to 2010 when Cedar Rapids began its traffic camera program. If residents don’t pay within 45 days, they would face a 25 percent late penalty and the debt would be forwarded to the state offset program, which can withhold gambling winnings, tax returns, and other money funneled through state coffers to pay off the debt.
The lawsuit filed by James Larew of Iowa City names the city of Cedar Rapids and its collection firm, Municipal Collections of America, Inc. as defendants. Cedar Rapids approved the notice initiative this fall as a way to collect $17.3 million in unpaid tickets.
Plaintiffs include Conway, Michael S. Vestle, Anson B. and Rachel J. Amberson, Kay Lynn Kula, Joan E. Blomenkamp, Tim and Nancy Waters, and Carl J. and Elizabeth Riechers.
The lawsuit contends the notices exceed a statute of limitations, which Iowa Code “states that actions to enforce the payment of a penalty or forfeiture arising under an ordinance must be brought within one year.” The other main claim challenges the late fee stating “Iowa law prohibits the retroactive imposition of any tax” and this would be considered a “property tax which was not in effect at the time that the alleged violation occurred.”
“Our clients believe that the city’s Christmas Eve collection notices sent to more than 200,000 vehicle owners — most of them residents from other cities and states, none of them owners of semi-trucks — demonstrate too much interest in collecting revenues and too little interest in assuring the fair treatment of all citizens under our state’s laws and constitution,” Larew said in a statement.
Cedar Rapids declined to comment on pending litigation, and a message left with Municipal Collections was not returned.
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The lawsuit demands the tickets “be rescinded, in writing, in documents issued to each recipient and any funds collected by either or both parties in response to the notices have been wrongfully obtained must be refunded.”
Conway, of Polk County, who’s lambasted Iowa’s traffic cameras as a corrupt scheme to make money on his WHO radio program, received notice stemming from a $75 ticket issued from a speed camera on Interstate 380 southbound near J Avenue NE in 2015.
He famously challenged his ticket in what he called a “kangaroo court,” which was in fact an administrative hearing in a private room at Cedar Rapids police headquarters. The Gazette reported on the hearing, and Conway livestreamed what was normally a closed-door hearing on his smartphone.
A police officer and a private citizen designated as a hearing officer presided. The hearing officer had not been appointed to the position, but rather had been selected because she was a friend of the police officer, according to the lawsuit.
She “stated that she was unfamiliar with the (automated traffic enforcement) ordinance and that she was unable to address any of the legal issues presented by him in support of his defense,” according to the lawsuit. She ruled against Conway and imposed a fine.
Conway refused to pay because he believed his constitutional rights had been violated and he was convinced the administrative process was a sham, according to the lawsuit.
The Ambersons, of Minnesota, had their administrative appeal of a 2014 speed camera ticket denied, so the couple submitted a request for Cedar Rapids to file a municipal infraction lawsuit against the Ambersons, but the city never did so, according to the lawsuit. Deprived of due process rights described in the ATE ordinance, the Ambersons refused to pay the civil penalty.
Kula, of Linn County, contends she was no longer in possession of the vehicle at the time of her ticket in 2016, and in fact her ex-boyfriend was the primary owner of the vehicle even though the vehicle remained in Kula’s name. She refused to pay and now faces $1,350 in unpaid tickets and a potential $337.50 late fee, according to the lawsuit.
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Blomenkamp, of Shiloh, Illl, had requested administrative hearing but it was never granted, according to the lawsuit. She assumed the ticket had been dismissed until receiving the notice last month.
The Cedar Rapids traffic cameras on I-380 and the westbound facing speed camera at 10th Street and First Avenue SE have been turned off pending the outcome of an appeal by Cedar Rapids, Muscatine and Des Moines to keep the cameras running before the Iowa Supreme Court.
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