Court gives Davenport green light to turn traffic cameras back on

Font Size:Default font sizeLarger font size By Tory Brecht | Friday, August 29, 2008 11:01 AM CDT | (85
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The speed and red light cameras mounted on Harrison Street near the intersection of 35th Street in Davenport may be back in operation after a pair of Iowa Supreme Court rulings. (John Schultz/QUAD-CITY TIMES) Buy this Photo

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UPDATED: Davenport’s red light and speed camera traffic enforcement program could be back up and running by late fall after the city cleared a major legal hurdle Friday.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled in favor of the city on two cases challenging the legality of Davenport’s ordinance utilizing camera technology to catch red light runners and speeders.

City Administrator Craig Malin praised his legal staff’s crafting of the ordinance and defense of it before the Supreme Court.

“It’s an instance where local innovation and technology innovation occurred before a statewide discussion on the topic legislatively,” he said. “Davenport took the lead in Iowa on enhancing traffic safety for very good reasons. We had consistently had some of the most dangerous intersections in the state.”

Malin said there will be an in-depth discussion by the City Council early this fall before the cameras — which were shut down in January 2007 — are re-activated. He does not, however, expect the council to change its mind on their use and application.

“We’ll review the locations of the cameras, the threshold of enforcement and continue to make sure that each violation is reviewed by a Davenport police officer before it is issued,” he said. “I would anticipate the council will direct that any fine revenue be directed toward public safety.”

The city had collected $1.3 million in fines from the camera enforcement prior to the legal challenges. Keeping the money was in jeopardy, because of a class-action request by one of the plaintiffs, Monique Rhoden, who argued that the state motor vehicle code pre-empts and makes invalid the Davenport code.

That same issue was at the heart of the case of Thomas Seymour, who challenged the use of the cameras after his vehicle was photographed going 49 mph in a 35-mph zone in March 2006.

The Supreme Court justices — except one who dissented from the majority and another who did not take part in the decisions — suggested in their ruling that the differences between Davenport’s ordinance and the state code actually supported the city’s claim that its rules were not pre-empted.

The state code “expressly authorizes local governments to enact ‘additional traffic regulations’ that are ‘not in conflict’ with the provisions of the chapter, the majority wrote.

“The Davenport ordinance simply cannot be said to authorize what the legislature has expressly prohibited, or to prohibit what the legislature has authorized,” they added. “Nothing in Iowa code ... addressed the question of whether a municipality may impose civil penalties on owners of vehicles through an automated traffic enforcement regime. Whether such penalties may be imposed by a municipality can only be characterized as a question which the legislature did not address.”

Cathy Cartee, the attorney who represented Rhoden, said she was a bit surprised and disheartened by the ruling.

“Basically, (the justices) are saying you’re afforded no due process and they have invaded everyone's civil liberties,” she said. “The underlying reason behind the decision, I would say, is they believe these cameras probably do protect and make people drive safer and since they impose a civil sanction and not a criminal sanction, they’ve decided the city ordinance is not in conflict with the state code. I strongly disagree, but that’s the way our system works.”

Cartee said it is unlikely the case will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

However, in their majority ruling, the justices pointed out that the two Davenport cases hinged on a narrow question of whether state law was pre-empted. The ruling hinted other challenges to the use of traffic cameras remain.

“We also recognize that a number of statutory and constitutional questions have been raised by (automated traffic enforcement) ordinances that are not presented in this appeal,” they wrote. “This court is not a roving commission that offers instinctual legal reactions to interesting issues that have not been raised or briefed by the parties and for which the record is often entirely inadequate if not completely barren. We decide only on the concrete issues that were presented, litigated and preserved in this case.”

Tory Brecht can be contacted at (563) 383-2329 or Comment on this story at

Court rules in favor of speed, red light cameras

By Times staff

EARLIER STORY: Red light and speed cameras may be back in operation in Davenport soon after the Iowa Supreme Court gave the city a pair of victories this morning.

The court ruled in one case that Davenport’s ordinance for the automated cameras does not pre-empt state law and is therefore valid. In the second case, the court referred to its ruling in the first to uphold the Davenport cameras.

In the City of Davenport vs. Thomas J. Seymour, the court upheld a district court ruling against Seymour. Seymour had challenged the use of the cameras after his vehicle was photographed going 49 in a 35-mph zone in March 2006. Seymour received a $60 ticket in the mail.

In the second case, Monique Rhoden and Curt W. Canfield vs. the City of Davenport, the Supreme Court reversed a decision granting a summary judgment to Rhoden. That decision also made the lawsuit a class-action case that could have resulted in refunds to hundreds of drivers who received tickets after their vehicles were photographed by speed and red light cameras.