Oh, Shut Up and Pay the Ticket, Already

For years, drivers nabbed by cameras for running red lights in San Francisco have tried to get out of paying their tickets by challenging the city’s whole camera system.

But by Wednesday, the latest challenge was poised for dismissal.

The constitutional challenge came undone after a superior court judge in San Diego granted a key pretrial motion last week in Buys v. San Francisco and a few cases against other cities. According to the San Francisco city attorney, the court concluded that the plaintiffs could not collect refunds for their tickets through their civil litigation, unless a criminal court vacated each infraction first. And that, according to the city attorney’s office, removed any financial incentive to push ahead with the case. In a statement, the city said the plaintiffs had been seeking “millions of dollars” in fines, traffic school costs and attorneys fees, and that the plaintiffs’ lawyers had agreed to drop their claims against the cities on Wednesday morning.

“It completely eliminates the cloud that was hanging over the program,? said Deputy City Attorney Vince Chhabria, who was in San Diego for the case Wednesday.

Brian Burchett, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the San Francisco Chronicle that attorneys had dropped the litigation to avoid exposing clients to a potential claim from San Francisco for legal costs. But, he told the newspaper, “We’re still firmly convinced that what San Francisco has done and is still doing is illegal.”

It’s the second time in as many years that the city has escaped a wholesale challenge to its camera system. In 2004, a superior court commissioner turned down a challenge by hundreds of ticketed drivers to the cameras’ scientific credibility.

— Pam Smith

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