But eagle-eye attorneys recently spotted a problem. Seems that those fines are about twice what they should be according to Rob Williamson from the firm of Williams and Williamson in Bainbridge, Washington. "My co-counsel's nephew recently got a ticket," says Williamson. "When she looked at the statute she noticed that that it clearly limits the fine to the amount of other tickets in the municipality – most of which are in the $20 to $40 range."
Williamson's firm has recently filed a class action suit against 19 cities in Washington State where the red-light cameras have been snapping pictures of drivers and sending out big tickets. The suit has yet to be certified, but a successful litigation could mean the size of the fines will be trimmed substantially and hundreds of thousands of drivers would be refunded the difference.
According to Williamson, the red-light cameras were installed as a safety measure and were supposed to be revenue neutral. "In order to expedite the process the tickets were supposed be handled in a different way than the usual red-light ticket served by a police officer where you have right to go to court and plead not guilty," says Williamson. "So the trade off was that the tickets were supposed to be handled as if they were parking tickets."
In reaction to the suit, the cities claim that since there are at least two parking penalties over $200 on the books, one for parking in a handicapped zone and one for abandoning a vehicle, the $124 red-light tickets are well within the cost of municipal parking ticket fines.
That is certainly not how Williamson and the plaintiffs in the case see it. "They are charging the same amount for a red-light camera ticket and a red-light ticket issued by a police officer," says Williamson. "Interestingly, when a police officer issues a ticket some of the fine goes to the city and some goes to the court system. However, when it is a red-light camera ticket fine the city keeps all the money."
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The Princeton Harvard-educated lawyer's quiet and unassuming manner belies his substantial experience as a trial lawyer. After a career as a Los Angeles entertainment lawyer, Williamson went to Seattle and has done a substantial amount of work representing people injured in maritime and railway accidents.
Rob Williamson established his firm with attorney Kim Williams in 1998. They
represent injured people in auto accidents andmedical negligence as well as people injured while working on tankers, freighters, fishing vessels, construction sites and other on the job injuries. The firm has recently handled cases for users of the drug Vioxx.