BRADENTON -- The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that cities, including Bradenton, that installed red-light cameras before a 2010 state law allowing the cameras must refund fines to violators.
The state's highest court said use of red light cameras by municipalities before the state law violated the state's uniform enforcement laws. The Supreme Court ruling resolved conflicting opinions from two lower courts.
The ruling's practical effect: probable refunds for drivers cited for red-light camera violations during those years, said Brett Lusskin, an attorney involved in the case.
Lusskin called it a victory for critics who have long insisted the cities went beyond their authority to grab cash from motorists.
"These were kangaroo courts trumped up for the purposes of extorting money from drivers," Lusskin said Thursday. "They had nothing to do with justice."
Bradenton City Clerk Carl Callahan said legal challenges to the cameras have been pending for years, and the
city has taken steps to avoid a potential financial hit.
"We knew the lawsuit was out there and knew it would take a long time to get through, so for the past three years if you look at our budget, we put funds collected from red- light camera citations during the disputed time frame into a reserve fund," said Callahan. "We didn't know what the outcome would be, but we set that money aside because we didn't want to get to what happened today and suddenly have to find that money elsewhere."
Callahan said the city has about $240,000 in reserve.
Callahan said officials are trying to determine exactly which cameras are affected by the ruling and who exactly will be eligible to receive a refund.
Each violation brings a $158 fine.
Callahan could not immediately say how many city red- light cameras were installed prior to 2010, but the city has presumed an adverse ruling would also apply to any city ordinance enacted prior to the state law.
According to city records, Bradenton enacted a series of ordinances related to red- light cameras, fines and late fees dating back to September 2008.
"We are assuming that it applies to all of the infractions and ordinances written prior to the state law," said Callahan. "That's the amount we have set aside. If it turns out to be less than that, then great."
While the city did not immediately know which cameras were activated prior to the state law, photoenforced.com lists at least one camera activated Oct. 18, 2009, at First Street West and Manatee Avenue West pointing south.
It was updated in March 2010 and then again in June 2011, when cameras were added to point in all directions.
The remaining city-operated cameras include four activated in June 2011 at the intersections of Sixth Avenue West and First Street East; 27th Street East and Ninth Street East; Ninth Street West and Third Avenue West; and Ninth Street East and Manatee Avenue East.
Two more were activated in October 2010, at Seventh Avenue East and Ninth Street East; and 15th Street West and Manatee Avenue West.
Manatee County government spokesman Nick Azzara said Thursday that all of the county's red-light cameras were activated after 2012. Azzara said the ruling will have no effect on the county.
-- This report includes material from The Miami Herald.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.