Kansas City looks to reduce court backlog of red-light camera cases

Saturday, October 17, 2009 | 3:05 p.m. CDT; updated 4:49 p.m. CDT, Saturday, October 17, 2009

KANSAS CITY — Kansas City officials are installing new public computers at City Hall so motorists ticketed with the help of red-light cameras can see evidence before joining the backlog of court challenges.

Officials hope that images and videos shown on the City Hall computers will keep some from challenging the tickets in court.

A recent one-day docket showed about 300 cases.

Kansas City has 29 red-light cameras at 18 intersections as the program became fully operational in August.

Lowell Gard, the city's first assistant prosecutor, said the early viewing may make people rethink pleading not guilty and provide relief to the Municipal Court.

"I had 14 trials handled yesterday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:20 p.m.," Judge Mike McAdam said the next day. "Some of the challenges were for good reasons."

McAdam said one video showed the yellow light turned to red after only a few seconds, shorter than the recommended interval.

Another woman was able to successfully persuade him that she legally turned right on red, after properly yielding to traffic.

In an e-mail to Prosecutor Beth Murano and other city officials, Presiding Judge Elena Franco said she was concerned about the impact of a growing red-light caseload on the court.

But she wrote that the computer solution "seems to offer immediate relief."

A Web site also shows still photos and videos of alleged violations.

"And we get people who do have computers but don't bother to go online and look," Gard said.

A number of cases are coming to court for other reasons, such as people who failed to send their fines in on time.

Traffic attorney Chris Kopecky believes a lot of alleged offenders have repeatedly got their cases continued hoping the red-light program would be scrapped.

He tells offenders to just pay the fines since the tickets are "nonmoving violations" and won't effect driving records.

Defenses such as "I wasn't driving" and "No officer was present" won't likely work, he said. Higher courts in Missouri have already heard those cases out of St. Louis, which started red-light camera use much earlier than Kansas City.

Public Works Department spokesman Dennis Gagnon said the temporary load on the courts is not surprising because 37,726 tickets have been issued since February.


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