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Court: Md. drivers can't get speed camera fines back

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Local,Maryland,Hayley Peterson

Maryland drivers are prohibited from suing local governments to get their money back for speed camera tickets, regardless of whether the cameras are operating in compliance with state law, Maryland's highest court has ruled.

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled against a group of eight residents who collectively sued Montgomery County, Rockville, Gaithersburg and Chevy Chase Village for paying the contractors of their speed cameras -- who provide the camera equipment -- on a per-ticket basis.

The plaintiffs said the per-ticket payments violated state law because the contractor, Dallas-based ACS State and Local Solutions, was also involved in operating the camera equipment, according to Montgomery's initial contract with the company. Rockville, Gaithersburg and Chevy Chase Village had similar contracts with ACS.

To discourage abuse, Maryland law prohibits speed camera operators from being paid on a per-ticket basis.

The Appeals Court did not issue a decision on the legality of the ACS contracts because it decided that the plaintiffs had no standing to sue for damages on the basis that the local governments are legally insulated from taxpayer lawsuits seeking damages against their speed camera programs.

"I'm disappointed," said Timothy Leahy, the plaintiffs' attorney. "This means citizens have no right to request their money back through any case."

The deputy director of Montgomery County's traffic division, Robert F. McCullagh Jr., said the decision proves that "the fee paid per citation is a fair and above reproach method."

"Obviously a vendor needs to be paid for their work," McCullagh said, noting that he wasn't speaking officially for the department. "Our department holds the control over the work unlike a number of other departments that allow vendors to have too much control."

ACS has the ability to control the devices remotely and the company prints and mails citations, though a law enforcement official has final authority on whether the citation constitutes a speeding violation.

Shortly after Leahy filed the lawsuit in Montgomery's Circuit Court in 2008, the county and other jurisdictions changed their contracts with ACS. Chevy Chase Village axed the per-ticket payment system, while Montgomery tweaked the language of its contract to clarify that the county, not ACS, is the "operator" of the speed cameras. The payment system, which awarded ACS $16.25 per $40 ticket paid, remained the same.

A lower court ruled that the changes made the contracts legal, but the Appeals Court took a slightly different view.

"We are somewhat dubious whether an arguably self-serving ... contract amendment moots petitioners' claims necessarily, especially where [county officials] admitted during oral argument before this court that the amendments did not affect substantially or functionally how they and ACS handled the speed monitoring systems before the amendments," Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. wrote in the court's ruling.

hpeterson@washingtonexaminer.com

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