Lafayette council considers lawsuits over unpaid tickets

Drivers with more than $125 in past-due parking or traffic camera tickets could soon face lawsuits if the Lafayette City-Parish Council signs off on a new collection strategy later this month.

The council on Tuesday introduced a measure that, if approved, paves the way for the city-parish legal department to file the lawsuits seeking payment of roughly 29,000 past-due parking and traffic camera tickets.

The new collection strategy has been on hold pending the development of an amnesty period and a contract change that requires the private company that oversees the traffic camera program to share in the legal expense of recovering past-due fines in court.

Both the amnesty program and the contract change with Redflex Traffic Systems are scheduled for a final council vote on May 21, City-Parish Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley said.

The amnesty program would allow drivers to pay delinquent fines without late fees before facing a lawsuit, but the time frame for that amnesty period has not been specified.

About $2 million in outstanding parking and traffic camera fines is past due, plus another $1 million in penalties for late payment, according to figures from city-parish government.

The city’s parking and traffic camera tickets are civil violations, so drivers don’t face a revoked license or jail time as they might for ignoring a criminal traffic citation issued by a police officer.

City-parish government now uses the “boot” immobilization device on drivers with delinquent parking fines, and delinquent traffic camera tickets can be turned over to a collection agency.

Those efforts have had limited success.

For the past three years, about 12,000 parking tickets and about 17,000 traffic camera tickets have not been paid, according to figures from city-parish government.

City-Parish Attorney Mike Hebert has said he would likely farm the cases out in large batches to contract attorneys who would work on contingency for a share of what they win in court.

He said most of the lawsuits would likely involve people owing in the range of $125 to $400, but he said some of the cases rise into the thousands of dollars.

There are 24 drivers or companies that have accumulated more than $2,000 in delinquent traffic-camera fines over the past three years, according to figures from city-parish government.

Some council members on Tuesday were still wary of the proposed collection strategy.

Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux said he supports the recovery of delinquent fines but wants assurances that all the money won in court would not be swallowed by the legal fees associated with filing thousands of lawsuits.

“Are we actually going to able to collect a surplus?” Boudreaux said.

Councilman Jay Castille shared those concerns.

“If it’s a break-even thing, I’m not too hip to it,” he said.

Hebert, the city-parish attorney, was not at Tuesday’s meeting, but Boudreaux said he has requested that Hebert discuss the revenue prospect before a final vote on the issue next month.