California cities could face class action from ticketed drivers

Legal News Line Feb. 9, 2009, 1:03pm

ORANGE, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-The Golden State often lives up to its name for attorneys from across the country seeking windfall settlements in a court system known for its support of plaintiffs.

Now 66 cities across the state could be on the other side, following a recent California appellate court ruling that clears the way for a class-action lawsuit by motorists illegally issued red-light camera fines.

The California Superior Court's Appellate Division canceled a photo ticket issued to southern California resident Thomas Fischetti because the city of Santa Ana failed to provide a 30-day warning period before issuing tickets from cameras posted at red lights throughout the city, according to published reports.

The court ruling backs a 2005 ruling also in favor of Fischetti. At that time the California Supreme Court upheld a previous appellate court ruling that the driver was not guilty for a ticket issued by the city of Costa Mesa for the same offense. Ironically, Fischetti represented himself in that decision and was unaware that the court can withhold publication of decisions when no request for publication was made.

Fischetti then pursued the same issue, again winning in court earlier this month. After being ticketed in February, he called the Santa Ana courts and explained he had won an earlier case that made the ticket illegal. In published reports, Fischetti, said their refusal to respect his court victory motivated him to try again and "finish what I intended to do in Costa Mesa," he said.

According to court documents, the court declared the ruling "meets the standards for publication set for in California Rules of Court. The opinion advances a new construction and clarification of a statute and involves a legal issue of continuing public interest. Therefore, appellant's request for publication is granted, and the opinion is certified for publication."

The California League of Cities had tried to overturn the 2005 ruling in favor of Fischetti, explaining that if allowed to stand, all 66 cities that use the red light cameras had failed to provide the proper warning period required by law. Now that this decision in favor of Fischetti is published, unlike the earlier one, every ticketed driver for this offense in any of the 66 cities could be entitled to a full refund.

The 2008 decision is essentially word-for-word the same as the decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005.

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