Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Court Rules Baltimore County Contract Illegal

A circuit court judge has declared Baltimore County's speed camera contract with ACS (now a part of Xerox Corp) to be illegal.  The court issued a ruling that ACS is an "operator" of the system and that because of this it violates a provision of state law which bans contracts from being based on the number of tickets issued.

Circuit Court Ruling
Attorney Stanley Katz from the law firm Saiontz and Kirk appeared at a March 5th legislative hearing in Annapolis with a copy of the ruling.  This is the first time a Maryland court has issued a ruling that a jurisdiction has violated this provision.

The affect this will have on Baltimore's contract, or whether the county or Xerox corp face any liability because of it is not yet clear.  In July 2012 a class action lawsuit regarding Montgomery County's contingent fee contract (Baker vs Montgomery County) was thrown out by the Maryland High Court. However the Baker vs Montgomery County decision was not based on the matter of who 'operates' the camera but instead ruled that class actions against speed camera programs could not proceed based on two issues:
1) The state's speed camera law does not provide authorization for individuals to sue the government, and the government cannot be sued unless the law explicitly authorizes it (in other words "The Crown Can Do No Wrong")
2) Paying a citation is an "admission of speeding", and by doing so the ticket recipient cannot seek a refund after the fact for any reason (This part of the ruling was apparently based on a Ferengi Rule of Acquisition: "Once you have their money, never give it back")
This position by the court, if maintained, would likely hamper any class action lawsuits pertaining to speed cameras, even those based on gross, systematic violations of the law.

However the new 'State of Maryland vs Katz' ruling could provide a defense for anyone who has received a citation from Baltimore County but has not yet paid.  Until January of last year Baltimore County paid its contractor a flat fee, and the Baltimore County ruling could force them to change back to that arrangement.  The new ruling could also indicate that the earlier Baker vs Montgomery County decision does not automatically give every per-ticket contract in the state a free pass on this issue.

The issue of contingent fees came back into the news when Governor O'Malley recently stated that per-ticket (ie 'bounty system') contracts violate the intent of the law.

Baltimore County uses the same speed camera contractor which Baltimore City (Xerox Corp) previously used, however at the end of 2012 Baltimore City canceled their contract with Xerox and signed a new per-ticket contract with speed camera contractor Brekford Corp.  Baltimore County uses the same type of speed camera (Mesa Engineering G1-ATR) which were previously used by Baltimore City until last year, the same type which Xerox Corp has admitted issued erroneous citations to innocent drivers.  Many recipients of Xerox/Baltimore City's erroneous citations "admitted speeding" by paying the bogus tickets, even though they were not in fact speeding.