By James Osborne, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Class-action litigation over New Jersey's red-light cameras has expanded to six more cities and towns and could grow in the weeks ahead.
Marlton lawyer Joseph A. Osefchen has filed suits in Glassboro, Monroe Township, Newark, Edison, Stratford, and Woodbridge in the last 10 days contending that motorists were illegally fined for running red lights after municipal traffic officials failed to complete required inspections of the cameras and intersections. Osefchen filed his first such lawsuit last month in Cherry Hill.
"I've probably heard from more than a hundred motorists since then," Osefchen said Thursday. "Nineteen municipalities had their red-light-camera permits revoked [by the state], and I plan to sue every one of them."
The litigation follows a decision by the state Department of Transportation last month to suspend its five-year red-light-camera pilot program in all but six of 25 participating municipalities until timing of the lights and cameras was found to meet state law.
Municipalities have until Aug. 1 to certify that the cameras meet state standards. But a conflict between state traffic law and pilot-program requirements regarding the length of the amber light could force many cameras to be removed, said transportation spokesman Tim Greeley.
By state regulation, traffic signals are timed to the speed limit. But under terms of the pilot, approved by the Legislature in 2008, lights are timed solely according to the flow of traffic. Were the speed of 85 percent of the vehicles passing through the intersection above the speed limit, the camera would have to be removed, Greeley said.
"We're not retiming any signals," he said.
New Jersey's red-light cameras have been a source of controversy since the state launched the pilot in 2009. The program has been lucrative for municipalities, but it has hit car owners with tickets that attorneys contend are unconstitutional and difficult to challenge.
A recent Inquirer report showed that six municipalities in Camden and Gloucester Counties had collected a total of $9.5 million in fines since 2010.
In Glassboro, according to the lawsuit, the amber phase of a traffic signal at one intersection with a red-light camera was two seconds short of state traffic laws, catching untold numbers of motorists unfairly.
Glassboro Solicitor Timothy Scaffidi declined to comment Thursday. Officials from other municipalities did not return phone calls for comment.Two companies that installed and maintained the cameras, Red Flex and American Traffic Solutions, both in Arizona, also have been named in the suits filed on behalf of motorists.
A spokesman for Traffic Solutions said in an e-mail Thursday that the company's cameras had met all state requirements and "been approved by the Department of Transportation." Red Flex did not return a request for comment.
Under terms of the pilot, municipalities were required to conduct traffic-flow studies to ensure proper timing of the signal. An engineer was to recheck the timing and report to the state every six months.
The lawsuits contend that did not happen and have demanded that the municipalities refund fines collected since the program began. That could be a financial blow to towns, which are racing to get their red-light cameras recertified. State officials have turned off red-light cameras at 63 of the 85 intersections included in the pilot program.
Cherry Hill Deputy Solicitor Erin Gill said the township already had considered cutting its revenue projection for next year based on the loss of the fines.
"We're hoping," she said, "to get our lights turned back on soon."
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