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Move to federal court sought for Minneapolis lawsuit on ‘photo cop’ cost reimbursement

The Arizona company that installed and operated Minneapolis’ controversial “photo cop” cameras has petitioned the U.S.

The Arizona company that installed and operated Minneapolis’ controversial “photo cop” cameras has petitioned the U.S. District Court in Minnesota to take over a lawsuit filed against it by the City of Minneapolis last month in state court in Hennepin County.

In 2007, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled illegal the program, which used cameras to take pictures of the license plates of cars that ran lights.

The so-called Stop on Red campaign was struck down because there was no way to prove that the vehicles’ owners, who received citations in the mail, were driving the cars at the time of the offense. 

The current suit seeks reimbursement (PDF) from the company that operated the camera system, Redflex Traffic Systems, for the cost of defending itself against a subsequent class-action suit filed by more than 500 car owners who demanded the return of their $142 fines. Last year, a federal judge ordered the city to return some $2.6 million in fines.

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The March 2005 contract between the city and Redflex called for the company to “reimburse the city for legal liability based on civil, criminal and administrative actions challenging the legality or constitutionality of the Redflex Program,” according to the complaint. 

The city also is seeking unspecified damages from what it says is Redflex’s failure to pay its subcontractors and to post a bond required by state law to ensure that subcontractors on public works projects are paid. In 2006, the city was ordered to pay Collins Electrical Systems $162,000 for unpaid work and $182,000 in attorneys’ fees.

David Shulman, the attorney who represents Redflex, declined comment, explaining that the action is “basically a business dispute.” Assistant City Attorney Peter Ginder also declined comment, asserting that “in this matter, the complaint does speak for itself.”

Ironically, if it weren’t for its constitutional problems, Stop on Red might have been a tremendous success. Claiming that during its brief time in operation, the system reduced accidents at the city’s most notorious intersections by 30 percent, Minneapolis officials vowed to find a way to reinstitute the program legally. To date, no solution has been found.