Jefferson Parish sheriff ambivalent about ticket refunds

Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand proclaimed himself largely ambivalent about issuing refunds to nearly 300,000 drivers ticketed under the parish’s red-light camera program, but he did note that his agency won’t be much help figuring out who gets their money back.

Normand’s pronouncement came Wednesday on the heels of the Jefferson Parish Council’s decision earlier this month to begin refunding fines.

At the urging of Councilman Chris Roberts, the council agreed to refund the roughly $20 million held in an escrow account once a pending lawsuit involving Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. is resolved.

Normand said he’s been besieged by media and politicians eager to hear his thoughts on the refunds. Although the bulk of the money in escrow would belong to Jefferson Parish, about a quarter of it was set to be divided between the Sheriff’s Office and the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office.

Normand noted that his agency was being paid for reviewing the videos of traffic violations and determining whether tickets should be issued. In addition, the agency held the collections until they could be disbursed.

But Normand said he’s ready to go along with whatever decision the parish makes when it comes to the pot of cash.

“It doesn’t move me one way or the other,” Normand said. “Whatever the parish decided to do, I will join with the parish.”

Normand acknowledged that the parish’s decision would mean that his agency wouldn’t be paid for the hours it worked but said he shares some of the concerns that Roberts has expressed about the program.

Those concerns center on recently revealed allegations that Redflex bribed officials in other areas to get contracts and the fact that more than a third of the drivers ticketed under the program simply refused to pay their citations.

Roberts has said the latter revelation raises questions about the fairness of the program, and Normand said he agrees.

“It’s the same concerns that we have,” Normand said. “It’s troubling.”

Normand did note that his office believes it was always Redflex’s duty to track down scofflaws and collect on fines, not the Sheriff’s Office’s. Redflex officials have argued otherwise.

Roberts said the company had the option of hiring a third-party collection agency to go after drivers who didn’t pay but never availed itself of that option.

Councilman E. Ben Zahn III asked Normand if he knew the district attorney’s position on the refunds, and Normand said he did not have that information. He added that if the parish wants to track down drivers ticketed, that information is being held at parish court, not at the Sheriff’s Office.

Redflex is suing Jefferson Parish for deciding to shut down the red-light program in 2010 after information surfaced that a local lobbyist was promised a cut of fine revenue if the company got the contract. The company is arguing that the deal broke no laws and that the parish should provide the company with its portion of the fines collected, along with damages.

The company also filed a federal suit against Normand, but that case was dismissed.

Jefferson Parish began the red-light camera program in 2007. Several other parish municipalities also use the company, but for speed enforcement programs rather than red-light enforcement.

Roberts said parish officials are still working out the details on how the rebates would work, and that all rebates would come after expenses related to the program are paid.