Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Montgomery County Questioned About Potential Camera Refunds

Montgomery County would not say whether they intended to offer refunds in response to a WUSA9 investigation which found that some of their speed camera sites did not meet a requirement of state law.

Maryland law requires that the locations of speed cameras be published in a newspaper prior to their activation.  However in investigation by WUSA9 in August concluded that Montgomery County hadn't published the following locations in any newspaper:
8000 Midcounty Highway, Gaithersburg
8100 Midcounty Highway, Gaithersburg
West Old Baltimore Road (eastbound), Boyds
West Old Baltimore Road (westbound), Boyds
18500 block of Barnesville Road in Barnesville
Prince George's County agreed to refund over 1000 citations over a similar problem there, regarding tickets issued at locations they admitted did not meet this requirement of state law.

Montgomery County did not provide an answer when WUSA9 asked them whether they would do the same, merely providing the following responses for more than a month:
January 23 – "We are reviewing the question"
January 24 – "No update"
January 28 – "Yes" (Response to the question, "Is the decision still pending?")
February 6 – "No decision as yet"
February 24 -- "No thanks. Have a good one." (Response to invitation for an interview.)
Montgomery County contends that motorists "admitted to speeding" by paying citations.  The county spent many thousands of dollars in taxpayer resources fighting to uphold this principal in court in the Baker vs Montgomery County decision, which essentially ruled that local government speed camera programs are protected from class action suits regardless of the basis.

However a motorists making the complaint to WUSA9 have asserted that he was not the driver at all, and that a relative was driving.  Speed camera citations are issued to the registered owner, not the driver.  (Most motorists are unaware of an affirmative defense which can be exercised when you are not the driver, which is not correctly stated on most speed camera citations.)

Montgomery County claims to have a position called an "ombudsman" whom they assert is an advocate for the public who has the power to void tickets.  The county supported a requirement for such a position in other local governments their testimony to legislature. but only as a way of advocating AGAINST more significant changes to the law prompted by large scale errors in Baltimore City.  In reality, the individual cited by the county as an "ombudsman" is really their program manager, and this person stated in hearings to the state legislature that he has only voided "15-20" citations total (which would be less than 0.005% of the number of tickets Montgomery County issues in a year).  We can find no record that Montgomery County's "ombudsman", or anyone else in the county, has ever ordered a large scale refund for any reason, and as a result do not consider designating someone to have such a title as a solution to anything.

For example, four years ago in 2010 we discovered that Montgomery County had been systematically skipping required system tests of their cameras, violating a testing requirement clearly written into state law which the county acknowledged they were not meeting at the time.  While since that time the county has apparently altered their procedures so logs are present, there was never an announcement at that time of a large scale refund over an issue which likely affected many cameras, thousands of tickets, and involved a clear violation of a written requirement of state law regarding the calibration of equipment.