Challenges to city cameras going to court
By Thomas Geyer | Saturday, December 16, 2006

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The challenges to Davenport’s speed and light cameras are hitting Scott County District Court with arguments in one case being given Friday before a district judge, and another person getting his ticket dismissed in late November.

Davenport attorney Dick Davidson, of the firm Lane and Waterman, and Davenport attorney Cathy Cartee, of Cartee and Clausen, argued their case against the cameras Friday before Scott County District Judge Gary McKenrick.

The two attorneys are representing Monique Rhoden of Rock Island, in what they would like to become a class-action lawsuit for the thousands who have received citations. Rhoden received a ticket from a camera at the intersection of Kimberly Road and Harrison Street after she left NorthPark Mall.

Davidson said that the speed and red light cameras are creating a “morass” of non-uniform local traffic laws that the State of Iowa long since has prohibited cities from enacting,

“State law governs motor vehicles,” Davidson said. “Cities are not permitted, with a few listed exceptions, to adopt a city ordinance that changes or does something different than that authorized by the state vehicle code.”

People who get caught speeding or running a red light should receive a criminal citation according to the Iowa statutes, he said. The fine is then assessed against the driver of the vehicle, not the owner.

For the criminal infraction, the state has to prove its case, he added. Fines are then paid to the clerk of the court in accordance with state law.

“The city, however, assesses the fine against the vehicle owner and not the driver,” Davidson said. “And the city gets to keep the money.”

And that money, if not a fine for a citation, is simply a tax which the city has no legal right to impose, he said.

“They’re trying to make something criminal in nature into something civil in nature,” Cartee said. “If a police officer sees the violation and issues a ticket, it’s criminal; if a camera sees it, it’s criminal.” But that is not what state law allows, she added.

“The city can’t have it both ways,” she said. “It’s either civil or criminal.”

Simply, the speed and red light cameras are revenue raising measures that the city does not have the authority to enact, Davidson said.

Assistant City Attorney Chris Jackson told McKenrick that the state statutes allow the city to adopt additional traffic regulations as long as those regulations are not in conflict with state law. And neither the cameras or the city code conflict, or are contrary to, the state statutes.

He asked McKenrick to dismiss the case.

Davidson told the court that he himself is fighting one of the tickets.

While the case is supposed to be a civil matter, court records show it is down as a criminal case, he said.

And even though the case does not go to trial until Monday, court records already show that he owes $130 for the ticket.

“I don’t know how the City of Davenport bamboozled the clerk of the court into putting this in as a criminal complaint,” he said.

He said while the civil infractions are not supposed to show up on anyone’s driving record, it has on at least one occasion which he presented to the court.

That, he said, is the morass the city has created with the cameras. The state did not want a patchwork of different laws in each municipality, he added.

Davidson asked McKenrick for a summary judgment against the city.

McKenrick has 60 days to issue an opinion.

Police Chief Mike Bladel, who was not at the hearing, when asked later about how a civil violation ended up on someone’s driving record, said he would have the matter investigated.

“I don’t know how that could be because the violations are civil in nature,” he said. Keeping the civil infractions off of driving records “was part of the commitment” that was made to balance privacy and public safety, he said.

In another case. Scott County Magistrate G. David Binegar dismissed a speed camera citation that had been issued to William Greenfield of Davenport. Greenfield’s car was photographed May 18 by the speed camera at Brady Street and Kimberly Road allegedly traveling 49 mph in a 35 mph zone.

Binegar dismissed the citation Nov. 27 because the city could not produce evidence that the speed cameras are accurate or reliable.

“I didn’t feel it was right getting this ticket,” Greenfield said. “The cameras aren’t there to save a life; they’re there to raise money.”

One of his attorneys, Mike Meloy of Davenport, said there are many problems with the cameras.

Among them are that “the cameras are contrary to accepted standards of past practices that people normally expect from the police department, and the city hasn’t made sure the cameras are functioning legally and meet the standard of the law.”

Thomas Geyer can be contacted at (563) 383-2328 or