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Added 8-11-09

  Lower Court Decision - Lori A. & Murray

These Santa Ana defendants won their initial trial, and got a detailed written decision.  (This is not an appellate case.)

Because it is not an appellate case, this decision cannot be cited as precedent in California courts, except maybe before the same judge who wrote it.   But there is nothing stopping defendants elsewhere from using the same arguments used here, or from citing the same published cases the decision relied upon.

These materials may be freely copied and distributed, so long as credit is given to highwayrobbery.net .
Many other cases and /or transcripts are available - see the Index to Transcripts, Briefs, and Court Decisions.

Click on these links for the documents in the Lori A. & Murray case (these are in chronological order):
Court Decision, pdf (text is below)
Article, the newspaper.com
Article, OC Weekly Aug. 18, 2009
  Searchable Text of Decision (below)


SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
COUNTY OF ORANGE - CENTRAL JUSTICE CENTER


THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA,    Case No.:  SA [  ] PE
Plaintiff,  vs.
[Murray] Defendant,

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA,    Case No.:  SA [  ] PE
Plaintiff, vs.
[Lori A.] Defendant.   

VERDICT OF NOT GUILTY          


WRITTEN FINDINGS BY THE COURT 

     On January 12, 2009 and April 2, 2009, defendants [Murray] and [Lori A.] are alleged to have violated Vehicle Code (hereafter VC) section 21453(a) for failing to stop at red signal lights in the City of Santa Ana at the intersections of Bristol and Edinger northbound and Dyer and Pullman westbound, respectively. The signal lights were of part of an automated enforcement system commonly known as red light cameras installed pursuant to VC 21455.5 et. seq.; and the result of a contractual agreement between the city and Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., entered into in December, 2002 and amended and extended in February, 2008.

     At trial, defendant [Murray] alleged that the charge should be dismissed because the city did not give a 30 day warning notice of the camera's installation for enforcement at Bristol & Edinger, pursuant VC 21455.5(b). Defendant [Lori A.] contended in limini at her trial that the Santa Ana police officer should be precluded from testifying in the matter because the contract's compensation clause violated the statutory mandates of VC 21455.5(g)(1) & (2). [As of 2013 see VC 21455.5(h).]  While the Court generally agrees with these contentions, it is compelled to declare - on its own motion - that the contract between the Santa Ana and Redflex is contrary to terms of a law designed for the protection of the public, which prescribes a penalty for violation; is illegal and void, and that no action may be brought to enforce it. The Court also finds that Santa Ana violated the "public announcement" requirement of VC 21455.5(b). Therefore, the Court enters verdicts of not guilty in these matters.

The Public Announcement

     In the contract's initial recitals, Santa Ana and Redflex agreed that vehicle code violations in general pose a serious threat to the lives and property of residents of and visitors to the city, and violations of VC 21453 have been shown to possess a significant risk to life and property. On May 27, 2003, Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters and Lt. (now Deputy Chief) Tony Levetino, conducted a public press announcement at the intersection of Harbor and McFadden, regarding the installation of the first red light camera.(fn.1)

(fn.1)  At the public briefing, these Santa Ana Police officials told the public that the red light cameras would save the city innumerable lives; that no dollar amount could be put on the benefits that would occur; that research has shown it will make the community much safer, and that the purpose is to make the streets safer and avoid accidents, not to make money. Nothing in this opinion should be taken as an inference that this Court doubts the sincerity of these recitations and representations.

Reporters from the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Times were present; and these papers thereafter published articles regarding the announcement. This public press briefing qualifies as a legal public announcement. (cf. People vs. Squire, 15 Cal.App.4th 775,782 (1993)).

     At the briefing, Chief Walters announced the completion of the first week of successful operation of the system; which had been activated 442 times during the first 5 days of operation from May 19-23. He stated that the city officially began its 30 day warning period on May 19th and that warning notice letters (pursuant to VC 21455.5(b)) were being sent out. Effective June 19th, the chief indicated that the system would begin to issue real traffic citations. VC 21455.5(b) states: "The local jurisdiction shall also make a public announcement of the automated enforcement system at least 30 days prior the commencement of the enforcement program" (emphasis added). In another case interpreting VC 21455.5 et. seq., the court has held that statutes must be construed to ascertain and give effect to the Legislature's intent; and to give the words of a statute their usual and ordinary meaning, (Leonte vs. ACS State & Local Solutions, Inc., 123 Cal.App.4th 521, 528-7 (2004)). The public announcement here which was made after the warning period commenced, and only 24 days prior to the actual enforcement program, was legally insufficient. On this basis alone, the verdict of not guilty must be entered.

     Advanced publicity engendered by a public announcement serves the purpose of deterring the violative driving conduct, legitimizes the law enforcement tool in question, and lessens intrusiveness by reducing surprise, fear, and inconvenience. (People vs. Squire, supra). While not a DUI checkpoint, a traffic device which flashes a bright camera light at a driver deserves similar considerations. The public announcement herein was not only legally untimely, it created factual problems as well. On May 27th, Chief Walters announced that "when the yellow light comes on, you have 4.4 seconds before it turns red". Yet it has been adduced in court that the only yellow light of that duration in Santa Ana's automated system is at the original Harbor/McFadden intersection; which has been increased to 4.5 seconds, none of the other 18 intersection approaches currently in operation (with the possible exception of Harbor & Warner, where the speed limit is 45 mph) have a yellow signal which exceeds 4.0 seconds. Today, July 8, 2009, in addition to the above cases, there are 13 red light camera cases set for trial in Department C54, Central Justice Center. In 8 of the 13, the Defendant is alleged to have been behind the limit line at a red light for less than the .4 seconds. In still 2 others, the violation time would have been an impossible to discern .08 and .09 of a second.(fn.2)

(fn.2) Vinson, SA135721PE, .26 seconds; Han, SA136762PEA, .18 seconds; Mez[ ] SA138138PE, .21 seconds; Coen, SA138633PEA, .26 seconds; Monge, SA139103PE, .23 seconds; Kim, SA139860PE, .23 seconds; Mahmud, SA140421PE, .27 seconds, Kelly, SA140606, .30 seconds, Crockett, SA137660PE, .48 seconds, speed limit 45 mph; A[  ] SA111098PE, .49 seconds

Therefore, none of these 10 cases would have been before the court if the yellow light duration was of the time stated at the only public announcement on the subject, versus the duration the yellow lights actually are on at the intersections.  While there was never any requirement for such a statement, that it was made at all has additional bearing on the issue of Notice, as will herein be set forth.

The Contract and the Warning Notice

      This opinion has discussed the automated enforcement system as a whole. That is because this Court does not necessarily agree with other respected conclusions which would appear to require a separate 30 day warning period as a matter of law for each camera at each intersection. For example, the very definition of "intersection" (VC 365) is the area embraced by the boundary lines of the highways which join each other. There would seem to be no logic basis for parceling out notices for each 1/4th approach to the intersection itself.(fn.3)

(fn.3)  On the other hand, this Court doesn't subscribe to the fear that every time a new intersection is added to the automated camera system, then a new public city council meeting has to be held. VC 21455.6 clearly states that the initial hearing is for "authorizing the city... to enter into a contract for the use of the system" only (emphasis added).

     This divergence does not resolve the fundamental notice question. The Santa Ana/Redflex contract specifically defines "Warning Period" as "the period of thirty (30) days after the Installation Date of the first intersection approach". Not surprisingly then, at the public announcement, Chief Walters said: "They'll be a one month period and the subsequent ones, if they're within that one month period, they'll be a warning. If not, if they're after the first month of warning, then they'll be issued citations unless we decide otherwise. Administratively we could, but technically by the law after the first month warning then any that we install we can issue citations right from the start".

     Eighty-four years ago, in Fleming vs. Superior Court (Orange County), 196 Cal. 344, 349 (1925), the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of speed trap laws which had been enacted two years earlier. As the Court in People vs. Sullivan, 234 Cal.App.3d 56, 58 (1991), stated, the Fleming court observed that the Legislature "clearly expressed its conviction that the presence of traffic officers actually patrolling the highways would have a most salutary effect in securing the observance of each and all of the regulations imposed upon drivers of vehicles upon the public highways." Originally, the speed trap law related solely to a section of the highway within the vision of a law enforcement officer who calculated the speed of a vehicle by the time it took for the vehicle to enter and exit the section.

     For several years though, the law has additionally prohibited law enforcement officers from testifying about the speed of a vehicle when "enforcement of the speed limit involves the use of radar or any other electronic device that measures the speed of moving objects." (VC 40802, et. seq.). Thus such evidence is excluded in court proceedings, unless the prosecution prima facie (i.e. as a condition precedent) generally establishes the appropriate training of the officer, the reliability of the electronic device, and that a traffic and engineering survey has been conducted which justifies the speed limits on posted signs that drivers would pass by. In other words, the law requires the driver to be put on notice when he sees a speed limit sign, that a reliable electronic device can be used to show he is in violation of the vehicle code. On the other hand, the basic statutory faith in an overt police presence remains, VC 21455.5 establishes its own statutory procedure for the use of an electronic device to detect red light violations; and it also requires as a condition precedent that "prior to issuing citations under this section a local jurisdiction ...shall commence a program to issue warning notices for 30 days" (emphasis added). In this Court's opinion, this is really quite similar in scope and intent to basic speed trap legislation.

     At the public announcement, the Chief correctly observed: "If you think about it, in order for us to put someone out here 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you would need 5 around the clock full time officers that did nothing else. And the fact that they can't watch or record the same type of evidence that you could get; they can't possibly humanly do what technology can do." This Court finds nothing wrong with new electronic tools to monitor traffic; which will reduce accidents and save lives. However, when the law favors "the presence of traffic officers actually patrolling the highways" (Fleming, supra), then statutory notice requirements like those in VC 21455.5 take on an enhanced significance and must be strictly obeyed.

     In Santa Ana, these notice requirements were to be virtually eliminated. Thus the following exchange at the press conference:

Chief Walters: "The other thing you have to remember is, these are not permanent; these can be moved. If we determine that this is no longer a high accident location, in a year or two we'll move it to another site. But we have 20 systems that we can move to wherever the need is in the city; the whole idea again is to change the way people behave".

Question: "So basically, the key here that's different is that you have a floating red light camera program?"

Chief Walters: "Yes, very much so".

     Generally speaking, the terms of a contract may not be contradicted by evidence of any prior agreement or contemporaneous oral agreement. However, where the validity of an agreement is the fact in dispute, evidence relevant to that issue will not be excluded. Further, the parole evidence rule does not exclude evidence which establishes the illegality of the agreement. Finally, the parole evidence rule is not applicable to a controversy as to the meaning of a writing between a party to the writing (here, Santa Ana) and a stranger to the writing (here, the defendants). (Code of Civil Procedure section 1856; Pecarovich vs. Becker, 113 Cal.App.2d 309, 314-15 (1952)). The statements by Santa Ana police officials are therefore relevant, material and admissible to determining whether or not the contract in question complies with the warning notice requirements of VC 21455.5 on which it is founded.

     Whenever a statute is made for the protection of the public, a contract in violation of its provisions is void. (Firpo vs. Murphy, 72 Cal.App. 249, 253 (1925)). Here, VC 21455.5 et. seq., was enacted to allow automated system enforcement of VC 21453 violations; which are punishable by a statutorily designated fine of $100 (plus penalty assessments) (VC 42001.15). A contract contrary to terms of law designed for the protection of the public and prescribing a penalty for violation is illegal and void, and no action may be brought to enforce it.  A court should, on its own motion, refuse to entertain an action when its illegality appears as a matter of law from the whole case before the court. (Civil Code section 1667; Industrial Indemnity Company vs. Golden State Company, 117 Cal.App.2d 519, 527 (1953)).

     In the instant case, the evidence shows that Santa Ana created a contract for enforcement of red light violations which expressly provided for only a single warning notice and at a time when only one of a contemplated 20 red light cameras existed. The evidence additionally shows that it was the intent of the city not to issue further warnings for other cameras installed after the first 30 days even though it knew that was within its lawful administrative powers. Finally the evidence shows a plan by the city to use the cameras as a floating enforcement program so that installations and enforcement could occur at any signalized intersection in Santa Ana at any time and literally without any warning.(fn.4)

(fn.4) Of course, a member of the public who did have notice of potential enforcement from the original public announcement would find himself with almost 1/2 a second less time to make it through a yellow tight. At 40 mph, the speed limit at the intersections of all but one of today's cases set for trial, this would be over 23 feet, or about 1-1/2 car lengths of yellow light time which turns red, instead.

Whether or not 30 day warning notices are required for every signalized installation, this set of circumstances is so completely contrary to any reasonable interpretation of VC 21455.5's notice requirements as to compel this Court, on its own motion, to declare the contract as unenforceable as a matter of law. On this basis, the defendants are entitled to a verdict of not guilty.

Compensation

    The Santa Ana/Redflex contract provides for a monthly fee for each functioning approach containing a red light camera operating system in the city. This 'flat rate" is consistent with VC 21455.5(g) [As of 2013 see VC 21455.5(h)], which states that compensation cannot be based on the number of citations or percentage of the revenue generated. However, in its "Miscellaneous Provisions" section, the contract provides Santa Ana with "the option to renegotiate" the compensation, "if the City determines it is unable to recover its costs..." Defendant [Lori A.] contends that this effectively negates the requisite flat rate, because it provides an incentive for Redflex to generate as many citations as possible so that the fees received from the city don't get renegotiated and reduced.

     The defendant is wrong in this factual assertion. Under the "Standards of Performance" section of the contract, "Contractor warrants that its camera systems will detect and capture all red light violations that occur..." One can't generate more than 100%.  As seen from the short time in the red in several of the aforementioned cases, Redflex does its job well. However, Santa Ana's contractual plan to move cameras to different locations "if we determine this is no longer a high accident location" does itself put the compensation issue directly into question. It's simply a matter of common sense to state that if violations are decreasing, then so are accidents. Therefore, the contract contemplates moving a red light camera which is no longer generating sufficient revenue to another signalized intersection again, without any warning -- and a concomitant opportunity to renegotiate the amount of compensation required. Giving the words of VC 21455.5(g) [As of 2013 see VC 21455.5(h)] their usual and ordinary meaning, (Leonte, supra) the contract fails because it potentially violates both the number of citation and percentage of revenue proscriptions of the section.(fn.5)

(fn.5) To be distinguished especially in today's economic times is language which would allow for termination of the contract if Santa Ana determined it was unable to recover its costs.  This Court sees no legal problem from this possibility, but this is not present in the contract's "Termination" section. As presently agreed, a change based on circumstances which by necessity mean less money just gives Santa Ana an opportunity to seek different monetary circumstances and concessions. This is exactly what is to be avoided by VC 21455.5(g). [As of 2013 see VC 21455.5(h).] Termination, rather than renegotiation, would be consistent with the sincere statements of the police officials at the public announcement; see ft. 1.

For this reason, the compensation section violates the mandate of VC 21455.5, and the defendants are entitled to a verdict of not guilty.

Dated: [Tentative] July 8, 2009 [Made final Aug. 5, 2009]

KENNETH SCHWARTZ
COMMISSIONER OF THE SUPERIOR COURT


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