Beaufort News

Judge dismisses part of lawsuit against Ridgeland's traffic cameras

Parts of a class-action lawsuit against Ridgeland over its use of traffic cameras on Interstate 95 have been dismissed by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Sol Blatt last week threw out claims from two groups suing the town: those who appealed and had their speeding tickets dismissed, and those who already paid the town's fine, said Ridgeland's lawyer, Timothy Domin of Charleston.

The suit, filed Dec. 20 by Columbia attorney Pete Strom, asks that the town refund all fines and stop issuing tickets using the cameras. Eight drivers ticketed by the system are listed as plaintiffs in an amended March 21 filing.

"Some of the plaintiffs had paid their tickets already, and the judge determined that that was the equivalent of a guilty plea," Domin said.

Plaintiffs whose tickets are still unresolved may continue with the case and have 30 days to file an amended complaint, according to court records. After that, the defendants -- who include Ridgeland Mayor Gary Hodges, Police Chief Richard Woods and iTraffic, the company that set up the system -- have 30 days to answer.

The suit also alleges that aspects of Ridgeland's system are unconstitutional -- specifically, that using "unauthorized mail service" to deliver tickets to violators, many of whom live outside Ridgeland's jurisdiction, amounts to an illegal arrest.

Blatt did not agree, Domin said. A news release on the town of Ridgeland's website states the court concluded that the camera system "did not appear to violate any constitutional rights."

"We were very happy about the decision," Hodges said.

Hodges has argued the cameras have slowed traffic and increased safety. The town's news release states accidents with injuries along the stretch of I-95 are down 51 percent, with no fatalities since the system was implemented in August.

Domin said this was the first decision in South Carolina to address the constitutionality of such systems.

"The traffic-camera systems have been ruled constitutional in other states, and we're very exited that the South Carolina district court similarly felt that there was no constitutional violation," he said.

Attempts Monday to reach Strom were unsuccessful.

A bill to ban the traffic cameras has passed the state Senate and has moved to the state House.