Lafayette council OKs new pact targeting traffic scofflaws

Lafayette city-parish government could begin filing lawsuits within the next two months to recover delinquent fines issued under the city’s traffic camera enforcement program.

The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday approved a new contract with Redflex Traffic Systems that calls for the company to share in the cost of pursuing the lawsuits and collecting the fines.

Redflex has the contract to oversee the traffic camera system, and the tweak in its contract was the final unresolved detail before the start of a tougher collection strategy of filing lawsuits against drivers owing $125 of more in outstanding violations over the past three years.

“I would hope that within the next 30 or 60 days we would be ready to go,” City-Parish Attorney Mike Hebert said.

Most of the violators who meet the criteria for court action owe amounts of a few hundred dollars, Hebert said, and the new collection strategy could conceivably involve a more than 1,000 lawsuits.

He said the plan is to farm the cases out in large batches to attorneys who will work on contingency for a third of whatever money is recovered in court.

“We have 15 law firms that are ready to begin accepting lawsuits,” Hebert said.

He said random selection will likely determine who gets sued first under the new program, but the oldest violations could be given priority and violators owing exceptionally large amounts could be moved to the front of the line.

The new collection strategy was first approved last year but had been on hold while the legal department worked out the particulars of how to handle what could be a very large number of small claims.

Once the details were ironed out, city-parish government then offered an amnesty period for violators to pay delinquent fines without late penalties before facing a lawsuit.

The amnesty period ended June 30.

City-parish officials and Redflex did not have figures for how much money was collected during the amnesty period.

But roughly 5,800 citations are still subject to lawsuits, with outstanding fines and late fees totaling about $1 million, according to figures from Redflex.

Lafayette’s traffic camera program began in 2007. The cameras take pictures of the driver and license plate when a driver runs a red light or speeds through a monitored intersection. The alleged violator is mailed a citation.

The traffic camera citation is a civil violation, so violators don’t face jail, criminal fines or a revoked license.

In the past, some unpaid traffic camera tickets had been turned over to collection agencies, but that strategy had limited success.

About 17,000 traffic camera tickets had not been paid over the past three years before the amnesty program began, according to figures from city-parish government.

The council unanimously approved the Redflex contract change on Tuesday.

The only discussion was over complaints by some council members that Redflex sent out letters threatening a lawsuit to many drivers who will not face litigation because their penalties do not total $125 or more.

The threat of possible litigation was in letters advising violators of the amnesty period.

Hebert said his office approved the wording of the letters, but he did not know the letters would be sent to violators who owed less that $125 and, therefore, would not be subject to a lawsuit.