TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In a legal battle that could have implications for other communities, the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday about whether Orlando and Aventura violated state law in approving red light camera programs.
The cases, which have been combined, stem from ordinances that the cities passed before the Legislature approved a 2010 law authorizing the use of cameras to catch red-light runners and establishing regulations.
Justices focused heavily on whether the cities were barred, under a legal concept known as "pre-emption," from veering away from state traffic laws in trying to crack down on red-light violations. As an example, justices questioned fines imposed by the cities that differ from penalties in state law.
"This seems to me to be pretty clear, and what we have here are additional penalties that are imposed,'' Justice Charles Canady said at one point during the hearing.
But David King, an attorney for Orlando, said state traffic laws delegate authority to cities in numerous ways and, as a result, the red light camera ordinances are legal.
"The question is, has the Legislature occupied the field?" King said.
Justices typically take months to rule in such cases.
Red-light cameras have become a highly controversial issue in recent years as they have been installed in cities across the state. While supporters say they help traffic safety, critics question, in part, whether the use of the devices is motivated by cities seeking more money from traffic fines.
The Supreme Court took the cases after conflicting rulings by lower courts. The 3rd District Court of Appeal upheld the Aventura ordinance, while the 5th District Court of Appeal struck down the Orlando measure.
The plaintiff in the Orlando case, Michael Udowychenko, challenged the ordinance after getting cited for running a red light in 2009. The Aventura ordinance was challenged by Richard Masone, who also was cited in 2009.
During Thursday's arguments, Justice Barbara Pariente questioned attorneys for the two motorists about whether cities had the authority to approve the ordinances under "home rule" powers.
But attorneys for the motorists said the state for decades has tried to have traffic laws that avoid a hodgepodge in different communities.
"The intent is the uniformity throughout the state,'' said Jason Weisser, an attorney for Udowychenko.