Greenville’s red-light camera opponents urge inaction from N.C. Supreme Court
Plaintiffs challenging Greenville’s red-light camera enforcement program are asking the N.C. Supreme Court to stay out of the case.
The state’s highest court agreed Wednesday to block an Appeals Court ruling against Greenville’s red-light program. That decision was labeled a temporary stay. Now the Supreme Court must decide whether to grant a “writ of superseadas.” That writ would block enforcement of the Appeals Court’s decision until all appeals are complete.
Plaintiffs object to the writ “because no extraordinary circumstances justify this extraordinary relief,” according to the latest filing Thursday from the plaintiffs’ attorneys. (One of those attorneys, Paul “Skip” Stam, is a board member of the John Locke Foundation, which oversees Carolina Journal.)
“According to unchallenged expert testimony, ’80-90%’ of drivers Greenville cites are innocent of any crime,” according to the plaintiffs’ brief. “This is because the Red Light Camera Program relies on physics the Institute for Transportation Engineers recognizes is flawed. … These flaws trap some drivers in a ‘dilemma zone,’ including the Plaintiffs here.”
Drivers find themselves in a “dilemma zone” when the length of a traffic signal’s yellow light makes it too late to stop safely and too late to proceed without running the light.
That’s not the program’s only “significant flaw,” according to the plaintiffs. “Article IX of the North Carolina Constitution requires that the Pitt County Board of Education receive 90% of the proceeds, but it receives 71.76% on net,” the plaintiffs contended in their brief. “This ‘funding scheme’ led the Court of Appeals to hold the Red Light Camera Program unconstitutional. Petitioners seek the writ of supersedeas so they may continue this unconstitutional Program.”
Nothing about the case generates a “necessity” for the Supreme Court to grant the unusual writ, plaintiffs argued.
“Perhaps the petition for writ of supersedeas is more like a motion for extension of time,” the attorneys wrote. “That motion still requires ‘good cause.’ Suppose error below were good cause for an extension of time. Every appellant argues error below — so every appellant could obtain an extension of time.”
The plaintiffs offer no objection to Greenville continuing to use the cameras to make recordings. “Those recordings may be useful in actual criminal proceedings,” according to the brief. “But [plaintiffs] do object to Petitioners continuing to issue citations, collect civil penalties, and disburse funds they receive. Returning money to its rightful owners is much more complicated after Petitioners have gotten and then spent it.”
If the Supreme Court grants the writ, plaintiffs make two requests. The court should “prevent Petitioners from issuing citations while the writ of supersedeas is in effect or … require Petitioners to put enough funds in escrow to (a) retroactively and prospectively ensure the Pitt County Board of Education receives 90% of the Red Light Camera Program’s proceeds or (b) ensure that, on remand, enough funds are available to return the money Petitioners unconstitutionally extracted from innocent drivers.”
A unanimous three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled March 15 in Fearrington v. City of Greenville that the city’s red-light program is unconstitutional. Its funding arrangement fails to provide enough money to the Pitt schools, according to appellate judges.
The city and local school board are challenging that ruling together. “Specifically, Plaintiffs contend that the School Board is not keeping enough of the traffic fines collected,” according to a joint brief from Greenville and the Pitt County school board. “That is, Plaintiffs have sued the School Board for not receiving enough money — a claim that the School Board opposes because, ironically, the solution to this purported violation may be to shut down the red light camera program so that the School Board receives nothing.”
The Appeals Court misread the purpose of a state constitutional provision governing red-light camera citations, according to the city and school board.
“[T]he Court of Appeals simply misconstrues the entire purpose of the Fines and Forfeitures Clause, with a result that is contrary to both the plain intention of the Clause and every case that has been decided under this provision,” the joint brief explained. “The idea that the Fines and Forfeitures Clause can be used to take money away from a board of education runs directly contrary to the entire purpose of Article IX, Section 7, and the jurisprudence developed under that Clause.”
There is no deadline for state Supreme Court action on the requested writ.