Government

Traffic camera challenges go before Iowa Supreme Court

Three cases question legality of speed cameras in state

Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette

Speed enforcement cameras are installed on a sign over northbound Interstate 380 near J Avenue Northeast in Cedar Rapids.
Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette Speed enforcement cameras are installed on a sign over northbound Interstate 380 near J Avenue Northeast in Cedar Rapids.
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Three cases challenging the legality of traffic cameras in the state are set to go before the Iowa Supreme Court on Thursday.

The justices will hear oral arguments in Reuven Weizberg et al vs. the City of Des Moines and Gatso USA, a traffic camera vendor that works with Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. The other cases will be presented without oral arguments.

Also on Thursday, the court will hear oral arguments on last month’s temporary injunction barring the state from implementing some provisions of Iowa’s new voter ID law.

The hearings begin at 9 a.m. at the judicial building, 1111 E. Court Ave. in Des Moines. A link to watch the hearing live will be posted on the court’s website at IowaCourts.gov.

The three traffic camera cases explore different legal arguments than the case of Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Muscatine vs. the Iowa Department of Transportation. The Iowa Supreme Court in April ruled the Iowa Department of Transportation lacked authority to order cities to turn off or move several of the cameras, reversing a district court ruling from May 2017 and opening the door for cities to operate camera programs under their own rules.

Cedar Rapids has not issued tickets on Interstate 380 — where four traffic cameras are located — since May 2017. The cameras generated about $3 million annually for the city, and city officials said earlier this year they are waiting to resume the program after further analysis. Des Moines began issuing tickets again on I-235 in late June.

The cases before the court on Thursday look at a range of issues.

In the Weizberg class-action case, a main argument is Des Moines violated the plaintiffs’ due process rights by holding administrative appeal hearings not authorized by city code. A lower court sided with Weizberg on that point, but rejected other arguments. Initially the court accepted the case without oral arguments but has changed course.

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In the case of the city of Cedar Rapids v. Marla Leaf, Leaf disputes her $75 ticket, contending she was not speeding and argues the evidentiary process is unconstitutional because tickets are issued by officers who neither witnessed the infraction nor calibrated the cameras.

In the class action of Myron Behm et al vs. city of Cedar Rapids and Gatso USA, Behm challenges the city should not have been issuing tickets after the Iowa DOT initially ordered certain traffic cameras be shut down or moved in 2015. Cedar Rapids appealed the ruling along with Des Moines and Muscatine and did not stop issuing tickets until a district court judge sided with the Iowa DOT in 2017.

The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Behm and Leaf cases, which both lost in lower court last fall.

All three cases include an undercurrent of additional, similar arguments, including arguing that the camera programs violate due process rights and the equal protection clause because certain types of vehicles are excluded from being ticketed, such as semis and government vehicles.

In the voter ID case, the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa and Tayler Blair vs. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, the court will consider whether to uphold an Iowa judge’s July injunction on the state’s voter ID law, which shortened early-voting windows and phased in identification requirements for Iowa voters.

The timing of Thursday’s hearings is somewhat unusual because it comes during the high court’s administrative term, a period when hearings are typically not held.

The 2018-19 adjudicative term begins on Sept. 3. Of the 109 cases submitted in the 2017-18 adjudicative term, the court reached 106 decisions and only the three traffic camera cases were held over for resubmission.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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