Juno Beach defers decisions on speeder van, red light cameras for legal advice

By Bill Dipaolo Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Updated: 9:42 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2009 Citing pending litigation, the town council today night postponed discussion about the white speed van and the plan to install red lights at two intersections on Donald Ross Road.
The council agreed to discuss the town's Safe Street plan on Jan. 13 at 4:30 p.m. The council meeting will be with legal counsel and is not open to the public. Such closed meetings are allowed under Florida statutes when pending litigation is involved, said Juno Beach Town Attorney Len Rubin.
"We can't make any decisions or have any discussions while there are legal cases out there. We have to protect the town," said Mayor Mort Levine.
Vice Mayor Pro Tem John Callaghan said before the meeting he planned to ask the council to discontinue the van and cancel plans for the red light camera installation early next year.
"I'm disappointed. I'll listen to what the lawyers have to say and then decide what to do," Callaghan said after the 4-1 vote. He was the lone dissenter.
A class-action suit has been filed against Juno Beach. The suit claims the infractions are illegal because the town cannot prove the owner of the vehicle was driving. Court suits also have been filed against other Florida communities that have installed the cameras at red lights.
If the courts say the infractions are illegal, Juno Beach and other communities would have to repay the infractions. That would include the expense of tracking down the vehicle owners and mailing the refunds.
The communities could also be liable for compensatory damages from the vehicle's owners.
Since the van was installed last March, about 6,700 speeding notices have been issued. Infractions from the van cost $125 for the first offense and $250 for the second. Figuring each penalty at $125, Juno Beach has sent out at least $837,500 in infractions.
Georgia-based LaserCraft supplies and maintains the van, which is in a new place every few days. Juno Beach buys the gas. LaserCraft keeps $25.50 of each citation. The town keeps the rest. The cameras use an infrared light beam invisible to the human eye to record a passing vehicle's speed. A camera snaps a photo of the license plate.
The cameras would snap photos of vehicles that blow through the lights. A notice of infraction would be sent to the owner of the vehicle.
Supporters of the van, and the red lights, say cameras improve traffic safety.
"We welcome the publicity. It tells drivers to slow down in Juno Beach," Vice Mayor Bill Greene said before the meeting. Greene said he would not support ending the traffic enforcement programs.
Dawn Landes, who paid a $125 infraction she received on July 20, doesn't buy it.
"How can they tell I was driving? It could have been a friend driving my car. I was out of work then. That $125 really hurt me," said Landes, a Riviera Beach resident.
The citation is a civil penalty that does not go on the driver's permanent record. The driver's license is not suspended if the driver does not pay after 60 days, but a collection agency is notified to collect the fine.
Town officials almost yanked the van in June. Until the technology stands up to pending court challenges, the town is on shaky legal ground, Town Attorney Len Rubin told the town council. The council voted 3-2 to keep the van.
"I understand the public will think the worst when they see we voted not to discuss the issue and hold a meeting closed to the public," said Councilman Jim Lyons, who voted with Callaghan to yank the van in June. "But we have to see what the legal issues are before we go forward.