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PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Bradenton sued over red light cameras

BRADENTON — A lawsuit filed Tuesday against the city of Bradenton alleges red light cameras installed at two intersections are unconstitutional.

“They are citing the owner as opposed to the driver, which is one of the constitutional issues raised,” West Palm Beach-based attorney Jason Weisser said, referring to the 20-page complaint. “They are shifting the burden of proof, which is another big issue. Rather than innocent until proven guilty, you are guilty and you have to prove you are innocent,” said Weisser, who has filed 18 similar suits against several other municipalities across the state.

The lawsuit, which also names the camera companies as part, was brought by a woman who was issued a citation.

In August, the first camera was installed at the corner of Manatee Avenue and First Street. On Tuesday, the city had three working cameras with two at Manatee and First Street and a third at Ninth Street East and Seventh Avenue East.

The cameras snap two pictures during a violation, showing the license plate as well as the vehicle. Video footage also is captured.

Weisser said people don’t have the opportunity to face their accuser and citations are issued days later.

“These infractions are issued 10 days after. People don’t remember when they were out and who was driving. People don’t even remember what they were having for dinner 10 days ago,” Weisser said.

Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said the citations are similar to being issued a parking ticket in which a driver doesn’t have to be present.

“Don’t you know who you lend your car to? I know. I think most people know who they loan their cars to,” he said. “The owner is ultimately responsible.”

The attorney general’s office and the state Legislature have both ruled cities don’t have the governing power to cite people using current state statutes. So the city adopted an ordinance in March 2008 allowing red light cameras at designated intersections. Red light runner violators are fined $125 through a civil fine.

State legislators have filed bills for 2010 to create a law that would make clear rules on statewide enforcement of red light cameras at intersections. Similar bills have died in past sessions.

It’s Weisser’s hope, the lawsuit will declare the local ordinances unconstitutional, suspend the use of the cameras until the state passes a uniform law concerning the cameras and refund the civil fines.

Bill Lisch, an attorney representing the city of Bradenton, said the city has not been served with the lawsuit yet.

“They have been making the same suit against a number of communities,” he said. “We’ll look at it and do our best to defend the cameras.”

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