Iowa Supreme Court to review Davenport traffic camera case

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By Tory Brecht | Thursday, January 10, 2008 | 17 comment(s)

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in one of Davenport’s two red-light and speed camera cases in March.

The case, Seymour v. Davenport, centers on Thomas Seymour, who allegedly was photographed going 49 mph in a 35-mph zone in March 2006. Seymour fought the ticket in Scott County District Court, saying Davenport’s ordinance conflicts with state traffic law.

Seymour lost that case and was ordered to pay a $125 fine. However, his case was taken up by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and will now go before the Iowa Supreme Court for oral arguments on March 11 at the Drake University Legal Clinic.

Meantime, a second case that the city lost is still under judicial review, said Tom Warner, the city’s interim corporate counsel. That means it could either be heard in appellate court or go all the way to the Supreme Court.

In the case, plaintiff Monique Rhoden successfully challenged the legality of the ordinance in district court, and District Judge Gary McKenrick ruled that the lawsuit could be a class action.

That ruling means the city could be forced to give refunds to thousands of drivers who received tickets before the cameras were shut down in January 2007.

Between the time the cameras became operational in 2004 and the shutdown, the city issued 16,878 citations and collected more than $1 million. Of that, the city has put $558,659 in its general fund and paid $453,000 to the two traffic camera vendors.

The setting of the court date comes on the heels of an Iowa Department of Transportation study released Tuesday that shows the cameras significantly reduced traffic accidents in Davenport and Council Bluffs.

“Reductions in total crashes of 20 percent and 44 percent were found in Davenport and Council Bluffs, respectively,” according to the study, which was funded by the Iowa DOT and conducted by the Center for Transportation Research and Education at Iowa State University.

“Additionally, while there has been some concern expressed by the public that use of red light running cameras increase rear-end crashes, the Iowa study did not find an increase in rear-end crashes.”

Davenport City Administrator Craig Malin said the DOT report confirms what Davenport police have said since the cameras were installed.

“It’s another piece of independent research that indicates the program was successful,” he said.

In addition to continuing the legal fight, the city also is collaborating with the newly formed Metro Coalition of Iowa — a confederation of the state’s nine largest cities — to lobby for definitive language in state law to clarify the legality of traffic camera enforcement, Malin said.

Warner said that doesn’t mean the city thinks its ordinances are outside state law.

“Our argument is we already have the authority to do it under our home-rule powers, but legislation would affirm and explicitly state that,” he said.

If the city is successful in court or in the Legislature, officials intend to turn the cameras back on and begin issuing citations again.

“We have a contract that we will honor unless the council directs otherwise,” he said.

The city’s contract with the camera vendors states that when it’s confirmed the program is consistent with state law, it will continue.

Alderman Gene Meeker, at-large, said he’s in favor of continuing the legal battle to save the city from having to refund ticket revenue and starting the program back up.

“I think it’s too bad we have to do that to get people to slow down, but we do,” he said. “I go on Brady and Kimberly all the time, and people continually run the lights. It’s just gotten worse.”

Alderman Bill Boom, 3rd Ward, said he’s on the fence regarding whether to turn the cameras back on.

“I’m not necessarily in favor of them,” he said, adding that he does believe the city must defend itself in court to avoid paying refunds. “I’ll have to have a chance to read that report. I prefer to have officers on the street than mechanical devices.”

Tory Brecht can be contacted at (563) 383-2329 or

DOT study

The 140-page report on traffic cameras can be found on the Center for Transportation Research and Education Web site: