Jefferson Parish works on plan to refund red light ticket fines

Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts’ plan to refund millions of dollars collected during the parish’s ill-fated red-light camera program is moving forward, although details of how refunds will be handled are still unknown.

The Parish Council agreed with Roberts’ request to have Parish President John Young’s administration develop a plan to refund roughly $20 million held in an escrow account since cameras stopped snapping pictures at the parish’s busiest intersections in 2010.

The amount refunded would be dependent on the outcome of the parish’s pending litigation with Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., which managed the cameras and is seeking about $5 million.

Redflex sued the parish after officials decided to stop the collection of fines related to cameras in 2010. That suspension came after news broke that Redflex agreed to pay a local lobbyist a portion of fines collected.

Redflex wanted the parish to restart the program and hand over the company’s portion of the fines previously collected. That case is still pending.

Roberts said the issues regarding the agreement with a local lobbyist are still troubling, but recent reports that Redflex is being investigated for bribing public officials in Chicago and other places is even more disconcerting.

Chicago officials are looking into reports that the company spent more than $2 million in bribes to secure a contract in that city.

Roberts has always been a critic of the red-light cameras.

He said it’s been discouraging to learn that although the company was billed as impartial and fair, the way fines were handled was filled with unfairness. Roberts noted that roughly 100,000 of the 300,000 drivers issued tickets never bothered to pay their fines and were not punished.

“Apparently there was no consequence for not responding,” Roberts said. “For those that did pay to find out that some didn’t and there was no consequence isn’t going to sit well with them.”

Roberts added that he program appears to have been rife with “questionable dealings,” and noted that some media reports have connected the alleged bribery in Chicago to individuals involved in the Jefferson Parish deal.

In 2007, the council approved a contract with Redflex after the deal was pushed by Bryan Wagner, who served on the New Orleans City Council in 1980-1982. Wagner received a percentage of fines collected, something that came to light during investigations of former Parish President Aaron Broussard and former Chief Administrative Officer Tim Whitmer.

Jefferson Parish was sued as a result of the red-light camera program by residents who challenged the constitutionality of the tickets, but the parish won those suits. However, Redflex’s litigation against the parish is still outstanding, said Parish Attorney President Deborah Foshee. Redflex also had a lawsuit against Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, but that was dismissed in December.

Roberts said the parish still must determine who would need to be paid from the escrow account and what other types of fees would need to be paid. All that will need to be ironed out before moving forward, he said. However, Roberts said that given the news currently coming out about Redflex, it is time to return the money.

“This is all based on what is coming out of Chicago,” Roberts said.

The Redflex citations were civil judgments issued against motorists who ran red lights in the parish. Several Jefferson Parish municipalities, like Gretna and Westwego, also established contracts with the company to operate speed cameras in their cities. Drivers were given citations of around $110 to $120, and the violations were not treated as criminal offenses.

That allowed local agencies to avoid having to split the fines with the plethora of state agencies that typically receive a cut of standard moving violations.