Cameras on trial

Cameras on trial

September 21st, 2010 by Chris Carroll in News

His voice booming, attorney Robert Pryor punched a fist above his head as he defended a fight against photo traffic enforcement.

"We are misunderstood," he proclaimed Monday morning. "We're not anti-camera, we are not pro-speeding, and we are not in favor of running red lights."

His remarks came after four attorneys took a moralistic approach in their quest to dismiss two lawsuits seeking up to $10 million in reimbursements from thousands of offenses caught on cameras in Chattanooga and Red Bank.

"They don't like to get caught running a red light, and they did," Red Bank City Attorney Arnold Stulce said in his opening statement. "What they're really saying is that they don't like red-light cameras. It's a failed argument."

After Monday's hearing, Hamilton County Chancellor Frank Brown said he hoped to issue a "quick decision" on the motion to dismiss.

If Stulce and Chattanooga attorneys are successful, that would take a significant amount of potential liability off Red Bank, which faces four other lawsuits dealing with the city's law enforcement.

The plaintiffs argue that traffic cameras unlawfully existed in Chattanooga and Red Bank before the state Legislature allowed the practice in 2008. Both cities say they didn't need approval to use a different method to enforce traffic law and argue that red-light offenders "are not entitled to a trial by jury, a presumption of innocence or a heightened burden of proof."

Pryor, the plaintiffs' attorney, stared at Stulce and Red Bank City Manager Chris Dorsey as he identified several "conflicts" within the laws, mostly focusing on a provision that requires a vehicle owner to pay a $50 camera fine.

"Red Bank makes it a presumption that the owner is the driver," Pryor said. "What we want to stop is the guy behind the wheel from speeding. Not his mother back home, not his college roommate."

If you're going to run a red light and "have an irresistible impulse to speed, Chattanooga and Red Bank are the best places for that" since most Tennessee jurisdictions classify the offenses as criminal misdemeanors.

"It's different down here," he said. "They just take your $50."

Other jurisdictions can cite traffic violations as misdemeanor because an officer witnesses the offense, as opposed to a camera, according to attorneys.

Stulce defended his city's camera policy, saying it was "well within the police power" of Red Bank and Chattanooga to capture video evidence of drivers violating elementary red-light law, even though both cities established the programs before the state Legislature recognized cameras.

An almost-identical traffic camera lawsuit was dismissed Sept. 13 in Knox County Chancery Court.

Contact Chris Carroll at or 423-757-6610.