Former Missouri justice to lead appeal of red-light ruling

Monday, November 25, 2013 | 4:34 p.m. CST; updated 7:25 p.m. CST, Monday, November 25, 2013

ST. LOUIS — A former Missouri Supreme Court chief justice has been hired to lead an appeal of a state appeals court ruling that has prompted nearly a dozen communities to suspend their red-light camera programs.

The city of Ellisville and American Traffic Solutions — which installed and operates red light cameras in more than two dozen Missouri communities — have asked the Missouri Supreme Court to hear a case in which the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern Division earlier this month ruled Ellisville's ordinance was not enforceable.

Former justice Michael Wolff, who now serves as dean of the St. Louis University School of Law, has been hired by the law firm representing American Traffic Solutions to spearhead that appeal, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The appeals court overruled itself in a Nov. 5 opinion regarding a challenge to Ellisville's red-light camera ordinance, saying it found flaws in the law despite the court's decision two years earlier that sustained similar provisions in Creve Coeur.

The court said Ellisville's law — and others patterned after the Creve Coeur ordinance — contradicts state law that limits moving violations at signalized intersections to drivers or pedestrians. State law also requires that points be assessed against a driver who commits a moving violation.

Many local red-light camera ordinances don't seek points for violations and ticket the owner of the vehicle caught running a red light, regardless of who was driving.

If that decision is sustained by the state Supreme Court, many cities would have to overhaul the way tickets are issued.

"They're worried," said Ryan Keane, an attorney who represented the plaintiffs in the Ellisville case. "It was a forceful opinion. It was well thought-out, and it overruled the most significant appellate decision to date."

Edward L. Dowd Jr., a former U.S. attorney who now works for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based ATS, said the ordinances are not in conflict with state statutes but rather are supplementary to them.

Cities have the authority to pass "additional rules of the road or traffic regulations," Dowd and attorneys for Ellisville said.

ATS spokesman Charles Territo stressed that the constitutionality of the red-light camera programs has consistently been upheld by state and federal courts and that the Ellisville ruling specifically affirmed that city's authority to regulate traffic as part of its police power.

At least 11 cities throughout Missouri have suspended issuing citations and will wait until the dust settles around the appellate court's decision.

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