TALLAHASSEE — Red light cameras installed before the Legislature authorized them in 2010 were illegal, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday, but drivers who were ticketed under the municipal programs shouldn't expect to find a refund check in the mail anytime soon.
The court ruled 5-2 that cities couldn't enact their own traffic enforcement ordinances that conflicted with the state's uniform traffic code. The state legalized red light cameras in 2010 after more than a dozen cities had installed them.
But the court didn't order a refund of fines collected and the dispute is expected to continue. A lawyer representing drivers in the case said millions of dollars in fines should be returned, but the question of how remains unresolved.
“There are other legal maneuvers that the cities can use to try to delay the ultimate result, which will be the recovery of millions of dollars for drivers,” said Dave Kerner. “The monies they collected, they collected unlawfully.”
That's not exactly the way the city of Orlando sees it. Lawyer Mayanne Downs said fines would only be returned to drivers who disputed their red light camera tickets, but not to those who willfully paid them. She estimated that Orlando would have to return about $100,000.
The Supreme Court was ruling on two cases that had gone before separate appeals courts with different outcomes. The 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach said Orlando's red light camera ordinance conflicted with state traffic laws. The 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami, however, upheld red light camera fines collected in Aventura before the new law was passed.
While Downs said she's disappointed that the city lost the case, she said there are no regrets about starting the red light camera program before the Legislature approved them. She said the cameras have saved lives, and Orlando's program forced the state to address the issue.
“We just had an amazing number of red lights being run by our visitors and citizens and we just felt like we had to take a stand,” she said, adding that the first intersection the cameras were installed saw a 95 percent reduction in red light violations.
Justices Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince disagreed with the opinion, saying that the state's uniform traffic code makes running red lights illegal and cities have the ability to enforce the law.