Government

Far fewer than eligible file for traffic camera refunds

Judge approves settlement deal in class-action lawsuit

Radar-enabled speed cameras are attached to a sign post as traffic moves along northbound Interstate 380 near the Diagon
Radar-enabled speed cameras are attached to a sign post as traffic moves along northbound Interstate 380 near the Diagonal Dr. SW exit on Friday, May 21, 2010, in Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Only a fraction of the 20,000 people eligible for refunds from the city’s automated traffic camera ticket program met the deadline to collect under a settlement approved this week by a judge.

In a proposed settlement to a class-action suit, filed last December in Linn County District Court, the city agreed to a deal that could have cost it $2.9 million by making refunds to about 20,000 violators caught on camera speeding or running red lights.

But according to an attorney in the case, only 3,473 claims for refunds were submitted by the deadline, and the judge allowed another 88 late claims to be included.

That’s fewer than 20 percent of the estimated class affected by the suit.

“We’re very pleased for the plaintiffs who stepped forward to respond to the city’s action and pleased that class members who wanted to move forward and file a claim could do so, and glad that we were able to obtain the relief that we sought in the class action suit,” plaintiffs’ attorney Jim Larew said.

The city expects to refund no more than $639,252 to class members, city spokeswoman Maria Johnson said, as well as $2,500 to the named plaintiffs and no more than $573,194 in plaintiffs’ attorneys fees.

Class members were notified that April 17 was the deadline to submit claim forms, though the judge ruled that some who filed after the deadline could be included.

Johnson said the remaining $1.7 million will stay in the general fund and be put toward public safety expenditures.

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The refunds cover fines and late fees paid through a December 2017 collection initiative. The deal also waives $14 million in fines for 177,000 tickets that went unpaid.

The suit, led by conservative radio host Simon Conway — one of those who got a ticket — asserted that the city, in trying to collect on the old tickets, violated state laws governing the statute of limitations and due process. The dispute centered on the imposition of late fees called for under changes in the city’s traffic camera ordinance after the tickets were already issued.

In the settlement agreement, the city denied any wrongdoing.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Ian Thornhill dismissed the case with prejudice in a Thursday ruling, according to documents made public Friday, preventing the matter from being brought back to the court.

The case stems from a city’s campaign in December 2017 to seek payments on more than 200,000 unpaid tickets worth $17.3 million dating to March 2, 2010, through Aug. 31, 2018.

Individuals who paid voluntarily in an initial 45-day grace period avoided late fees and usually paid $75.

Past that window, a 25 percent late fee was added and the debt was submitted to the Iowa Department of Administrative Services’ offset program. Under that program, state income tax refunds and other funds kept for the individual by the state were withheld to settle the debt.

The settlement does not cover those who paid during the grace period, but it covers people whose debt was settled involuntarily through the offset program and without admitting guilt, as well as those who paid a late fee.

Cedar Rapids operates automated traffic cameras at nine locations, including four speed cameras on Interstate 80 on both sides of the S-curve through downtown.

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Some Iowa lawmakers have been among critics of the traffic cameras, trying for years to either ban or more stringently regulate them. But another legislative session ended this year without any action against them.

City and police officials maintain that the cameras have proved to make roads safer.

Larew, an Iowa City lawyer who has filed several traffic camera cases, said he hopes Iowa eventually is among the states that ban traffic cameras, but time will tell “how Iowa evolves.”

“I think for the near future, it’s going to be one of these where issues will be resolved in litigation rather than through legislation,” Larew said.

Comments: (319) 398-8494; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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