Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Montgomery County Legislative Candidates Call For Reversible Lanes on I-270

Two candidates for the state legislature in Montgomery County district 15 are calling for the state to add reversible lanes to I-270 to alleviate traffic concerns.

The father son team of Robin Ficker and Flynn Ficker, running for state senate and state delegate respectively, say the plan is a cost effective approach to addressing traffic congestion.  Robin Ficker said traffic congestion is one of the biggest concerns that District 15 residents have expressed to him.  "Gridlock on I-270 and to a lesser extent, gridlock on 355 and 27 are their biggest transportation concerns." he wrote, and joked that "The voters are thinking the county may soon try to raise money by giving them parking tickets while they are driving on I-270."

There have been proposals for widening I-270 with additional lanes for some time, but most of the push has been to add High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes only.  Robin Ficker felt that creating reversible lanes was a better approach that would save both money and land.  "We need two reversible lanes for cars in the middle of I-270 which could be built for 1/20 the cost per mile of the Purple Line.  There would NOT be tolls for the reversible lanes.  We think it could be done within the existing right of way."

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Baltimore Sun: RedFlex Lobbying to Win Baltimore City Camera Contract

From the Baltimore Sun:
Traffic camera giant Redflex has been lobbying the Rawlings-Blake administration and City Council to take over Baltimore's once-lucrative speed and red-light camera network — stressing that it should not be judged by an unfolding scandal in Chicago in which a former executive is charged with bribery.
The Arizona-based firm ran Chicago's red-light cameras for a decade, generating $500 million in revenue, but lost the work last year amid city and federal investigations. Officials in Baltimore said Thursday that the company, which was once a finalist to run this city's system, has used the recent talks to distance itself from the Chicago indictments.
[...]
Redflex is the third speed camera company to register lobbyists in an attempt to run Baltimore's system — once the largest in North America. The company has retained local lawyers Kenneth J. Battle Jr. and Kimberly Robinson of the Funk & Bolton firm, who have registered as lobbyists with the city, documents show.
The local system has been shut down for more than a year following The Baltimore Sun's revelations about erroneous tickets. The Sun investigation found errors at many cameras, including tickets issued for slow-moving or stopped cars. When operating, the network of 83 speed cameras and 81 red-light cameras brought more than $140 million to city government through $40 speed camera citations given out in school zones and $75 red light camera tickets.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

District Court Grudgingly Accepts Innocence as Defense

District Court judges in Montgomery County dismissed three speed camera citations, albeit somewhat reluctantly, after the person named in the citations successfully proved that they were not the driver of the vehicle and argued that state law specifically permits this as a defense.  Both defendants successfully argued that state law does not require that they identify the driver.

Innocent Motorists Prevail in Court --- Barely

On May 12, 2014 Attorney Paul Layer argued that he was not driving the vehicle at the time when two citations were issued under his name.  Layer pointed out that Transportation Article §21-809(f)(1)(ii) specifically permitted that it was a defense if the person named in the citation was not driving.  Transportation Article §21-09(f)(3) required that to exercise this defense, the defendant must mail the court a sworn affidavit stating they were not the driver certified mail return receipt requested, along with "corroborating evidence".  Layer provided the court with plane tickets showing he was not present at the time, and a copy of the statement with the certified mail receipt he had mailed to the court.
Paul Layer: and that being the case, your honor, and the affidavit is self explanatory, that being the case I need to respectfully disagree with the interpretation that I’ve heard from your honor this morning on 21-809. 21-809(f)(3) lays out the requirements for the defense that I’m presenting which I was not the driver. Now, effective October 1, 2009, the Maryland legislature amended the statute and removed any requirement that a defendant who is pleading not guilty on the grounds that they were not the driver, it was removed from the statute any requirement that the defendant identify another driver and what the 21-809(f)(3) is left with is the lower case Roman numerals (i) and (ii) which indicate the requirement that I provide to the district court certified mailing indicating I was not the driver and any other corroborating evidence. I’ve done that through my affidavit to you. I disagree respectfully with your, what you’ve, I’ve heard you talk about this morning –   
Judge: You’re correct, you’re correct, I’m reading it again, you’re correct, it doesn’t require that you name the driver

After the judge declared Layer not guilty, a representative from Montgomery County -- Dan McNickle -- attempted to intervene in the case without being sworn in or called to the stand.  McNickles asked the court to let them reissue the ticket to another individual without having received testimony as to who was driving.  Mr Layer, as a skilled attorney, was able to rebuff this.
"I’ll object, I’m going to object to that, judge. I don’t know who this person is, I don’t know if he’s under oath, I don’t know if he’s testifying or what, but what I think he may be keying into is 21-809(f)(4), and (f)(4) is an instruction to the district court, if you find that there was evidence indicating that there was another person who was driving the vehicle, you can –"
 ...
"I’m simply making an argument to you that section (4) is not activated in this case and respectfully I think it exceeds the court’s authority to order the agency to issue a citation under these circumstances."   
"Judge: I…I wasn’t saying I was ordering them, they asked whether or not they could issue a citation. And certainly (pause) all right, I already said I was finding you not guilty, I’ll keep it that way. All right, have a seat in the front row to get your paperwork. Oh, you’re free to go sir"

The second case was heard on August 11, 2014 before Judge Margaret M. Schweitzer.  The defendant provided the following report:
The judge made a point of explaining to other defendants that a speed-camera citation was "like a parking ticket" -- it applied to the car, she said.  She discussed the ability to walk away with no fine if the defendant had provided a letter to "transfer liability".  At that stage, I wasn't very optimistic that she would accept a straight defense that I wasn't driving absent naming who was "liable".  
...
At my trial, Officer Hebron of the automated enforcement unit testified that the car was "registered to or operated by" me at the time of the alleged civil offense, as he had with all previous defendants.  I asked him several questions:  (1) Did he know or have any evidence that I operated the car at the time of alleged offense? ("No").  (2) Could he recognize the driver in any of the photos taken by the automated equipment at the time of the alleged offense? ("No").  He then testified that the car was registered to me.  I then asked (3) Did he know whether the car was registered to anyone in addition to me?  I was surprised, actually, that he didn't know.
...
I then told the judge that the statute provided for a defense that the defendant was not driving at the time of the alleged offense, and in compliance with Transportation Art.  §21-809(f)(3) I had sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, a letter to the District Court affirming that I was not the driver, and providing corroborating evidence.  The judge said my case file didn't contain the letter (great docketing system, MoCo!), so I provided her a copy (and a copy for the state, even though there was no representative present).  After she read it, I indicated that I wanted to discuss the law.  I said I had complied exactly with the requirements of the law with respect to a defense of factual innocence, and  I reminded her that she had discussed "transfer of liability" earlier in the day.  I said that the law doesn't require that to assert a defense of factual innocence, and began to discuss the State Assembly's amendment removing such a requirement in 2009.  At that point, she interrupted me and said she was familiar with the history, agreed with me that I had complied with the law's requirements, and was finding me not guilty.  And that was that.
We previously wrote that the Montgomery County Circuit Court upheld this defense in December of 2013 in the case of State of Maryland vs Ely case #123554C.  The defendant, who is a founding member of the Maryland Drivers Alliance, proved that he was not driving at the time of the alleged violation and successfully argued this is a defense under state law.


The Maryland Drivers Alliance has created a sample letter to the court for those who might be seeking to utilize this defense.  Note that this defense can only apply if the person named in the citation was not driving the vehicle and can provide some corroborating evidence of this.

Local Governments, Court Defend Citation Language Which Misleads Motorists

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Annapolis Contract With RedSpeed Contains Sweeping Secrecy Clause

When Annapolis signed their speed camera contract with Redspeed, they included an elaborate secrecy clause specifically blocking the public from obtaining most of the technical details about the cameras, how the program is run, and even documents pertaining to the identification of possible errors from public records requests.

WTOP: DC Placed Speed Camera Inside Maryland

An investigation by WTOP revealed that a District of Columbia speed camera is actually located inside Maryland.

The camera, located at the convergence of East Capitol Street, Southern Avenue and Central Avenue, is actually located about 20 feet inside of Maryland, near the Capital Heights Metros station.
Both a speed and a red light camera are located at this position.  The camera can clearly be seen sitting outside the "Welcome To Washington, DC" sign.

DC officials told WTOP that the camera is legal, because the road being photographed is inside DC....
...And apparently because everything the government does is legal according to the government.

However independent attorneys told WTOP that the camera appears to violate DC's own statute, which says the location of the hardware must be inside DC.
"There are several statutes on this issue. But they all discuss automated traffic enforcement units in the District. That's the phrase: 'In the District.' So the cameras are placed in Maryland illegally," says lawyer Timothy Leahy.
"D.C. statute 50- 2209.11 states that 'automated cameras "should be deployed in the District"' ... To put them in Maryland is illegal. The District can try and explain this away, but it's supposed to follow the law," says lawyer Paul D. Hunt.

WTOP proposed that individuals who receive a ticket from this camera can attempt to dispute it at the DC-DMV, but notes that the hearing process seldom allows any defense regarding a system wide issue.
"You would go before a hearing examiner and make the case that the system is deployed in Maryland. This counsel thinks your defense will be denied at the earliest stages because they're not going to make a pronouncement about citywide policy. So you'd essentially have to go through a long road to the D.C. Court of Appeals before a decision was made," Hunt says.

Attorneys WTOP spoke with noted that the process to force the city to move the camera would be extremely expensive: "Unless you can do it yourself as a lawyer, you're talking about 100 hours of legal time and could spend as much as $20,000 with no guarantees of success over a $100 ticket," adds Hunt.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Baltimore Sun: Xerox Submitted Faulty Data on Howard County Speed Camera Program

From the Baltimore Sun:
Data submitted by Xerox State & Local Solutions for the county's four cameras repeatedly listed more vehicles speeding than there were cars on the road, according to documents reviewed by The Baltimore Sun. The 2013 data sometimes reported that 200 percent, 400 percent or even 600 percent of the number of cars that passed by a camera were speeding. 
County officials say Xerox lost some files that tracked the total number of vehicles on a road. Officials say they do not believe that any erroneous citations were issued to motorists, in part because the citations are generated by a different computer program and undergo a review process. But they say the mistakes in the data are a problem for police trying to monitor the speed camera program.
"We are demanding that this be resolved," said Howard Police Chief Gary Gardner. He said he learned about the problem from The Sun. He said the county has given Xerox until the middle of the month to submit corrected data. "Given the issues that Xerox has had in other jurisdictions, we don't want to have a black mark on our program."
[...]
Even so, some said they believe that the flawed data raises questions about the integrity of the county's speed camera program. 
"If the data smells funny, there probably is a problem," said state Del. Warren Miller, a Howard County Republican. "We really should take a more comprehensive look at the accuracy of these systems. And we shouldn't have vendors like Xerox getting rich off this system if it's not working." 
Miller said he plans to reintroduce a bill in the next General Assembly session that would require quarterly audits of all speed camera programs in Maryland.

Speed camera contractor Xerox had been booted from Baltimore City's speed camera contract in 2012.  An audit by the city (which Baltimore had attempted to keep secret) later revealed that the cameras used there had high rates of errors, including citations issued to stationary cars.

Xerox is also the speed camera contractor for Montgomery County and the Maryland SHA.