Judge puts a stop to red light lawsuit
By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
A Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit against Greenville’s red light camera system Monday because the plaintiff never received a ticket, didn’t own a car and even filed the suit before the cameras were operational.
Judge Alma Hinton ruled that William Kozel had no standing to pursue the case during an afternoon hearing in Pitt County Superior Court. Kozel, a Greenville resident, sued the city, Pitt County Schools and others in September arguing the camera program violates state law that requires all proceeds from tickets go to the school system.
His suit also alleged that the interval between the yellow and red lights in the city do not give drivers who intend to obey the law enough time after seeing the yellow to either stop or to proceed and enter the intersection legally.
Hinton effectively ruled the arguments moot and agreed with an attorney representing the Pitt County Board of Education — the schools receive all the money from the program and distribute a portion of it back to the city and a contractor that maintains the cameras.
“You have to have skin in the game. That isn’t a technical matter, it is a question of the integrity and independence of the courts,” said the school board’s lawyer, Bob King. “The courts are not here for the abstract, not here to provide an advisory. You have to have a real controversy, and in order to have controversy, you have to have standing, you have to have something you might be able to lose.”
According to affidavits filed by the defense, Kozel has never paid taxes on real property in Pitt County and has not paid personal property taxes since March 17, 2016. King said since Kozel has not received a ticket and does not own a vehicle to receive a ticket in, he could not claim the cameras have violated his rights.
Kozel’s lawyer, Paul Stam, argued that Kozel had standing because he pays sales taxes that flow into the city’s general fund. He said because that fund is technically used for fees related to red light cameras, his client had standing to contest the program as a taxpayer concerned about how his tax money was being used.
Hinton said she did not believe it was correct. She said as a Halifax county resident, she did not believe she would have standing to challenge the cameras just because she paid sales tax in Greenville during her lunch break.
"Under your theory I could come in and challenge the city of Greenville’s red light camera program,” she said.
Stam said he believed she could.
“That defies reason to me,” she said. “I don’t believe that’s a correct statement of the law.”
Hinton also dismissed a motion by Stam to add another plaintiff, Craig Malmrose, to the lawsuit. According to an attached unity affidavit, Malmrose is a tax paying resident of Pitt County. Stam said that Malmrose has also received a ticket.
King argued that adding Malmrose was inappropriate it skips all administrative procedures for appealing a ticket. He said the city and court have a system in place and circumventing that for the sake of adding Malmrose to the case set bad precedent.
Hinton agreed with King’s arguments.
She said lawsuit was flawed from the outset in any case because it was filed in September and the cameras were installed at five intersections in early October. They were activated on Nov. 15 after a one-month warning period.
“At the time this lawsuit was filed, Greenville didn’t even have a red light camera,” she said. “So nobody had standing. Nobody had standing when this was filed.”
The program issued about 8,500 tickets thourgh March 1. At $100 a ticket, expected revenue for the tickets comes to about $850,000. The school system keeps $69.15 per ticket, pays American Traffic Solutions $31.85 per ticket and the city $6,250 a month for an officer who ultimately approves each citation.
Contact Seth Gulledge at Sgulledge@reflector.com and 329-9579.