Lawsuit targets red-light cameras

Lawyer seeks to abolish `Big Brother innovation'

March 14, 2000|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Calling Maryland's red-light camera law "unfair and un-American," a Baltimore lawyer who got a ticket thanks to one of the cameras filed a federal lawsuit yesterday challenging the constitutionality of the statute.

Imad K. Dajani, 41, an arbitration and civil rights attorney, said the red-light cameras deprive motorists of their right to defend themselves.

"The statute in effect creates a presumption of guilt," said Dajani, who in November was ordered to pay a $55 fine and $23 in court costs for running a red light at Fayette and President streets. "You have the burden of proof, and the state isn't required to prove anything, just show a photograph."

Dajani filed the lawsuit, one of the first to challenge the constitutionality of red-light camera laws that have been implemented across the country, in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. He said he will argue the case himself and is asking a judge to strike down the law. Baltimore has red-light cameras at 18 intersections and has issued more than 47,000 citations since it began the program Feb. 26, 1999. Howard, Montgomery and Baltimore counties use red-light cameras.

The lawsuit alleges that the law "puts the camera in the important role of accuser" that can eventually lead to license suspensions and revocations, "while resigning to the conclusion that a machine can commit no errors, and make no mistakes."

Dajani's lawsuit takes issue with Baltimore's use of a private company, Lockheed Martin IMS, to manage the camera equipment in exchange for a percentage of ticket revenue.

Officials at Lockheed couldn't be reached for comment. Kurt Kocher, spokesman for the city Department of Public Works, which oversees the program, said Lockheed is paid 15 percent to 36 percent of the fines collected. At $55 a ticket, that works out to between $388,000 and $931,000 in a year. He pointed out that city police review the pictures and have final say on whether to issue a fine.

Kocher declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, but he defended the program: "We have said all along that we are doing this for public safety. It has reduced the number of accidents, and we feel that it is working." He said the city plans to put in 30 more cameras at intersections by next year.

Dajani said he doesn't remember anything about the day he supposedly ran the light.

"I just got this thing in the mail one day, saying I ran a red light a month earlier," he said. "How can I defend myself?"

He went to Baltimore District Court, and a judge ordered him to pay the fine. He says in the lawsuit that no witnesses or police officers appeared for the state, and that no authentication was produced for the photograph of his vehicle.

"I think a lot of citizens in Maryland are in agreement with me on this," Dajani said. "Many people look at these cameras as Big Brother's latest fiscal innovation."

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