Turn on the red light (drama): Judge blocks appeal; camera opponent calls mayor"a liar"
The effort to permanently dismantle the city's red light camera system has come to a grinding halt with Mayor Annise Parker's decision to reinstate the program and U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes' Friday ruling that the city cannot appeal his decision that the public vote to turn off the cameras is invalid.
Following a brief period of equipment testing, violators will begin to receive tickets again — despite the referendum to turn the cameras off that Houston voters passed in November. The city issued a statement on Friday night saying that Hughes' latest ruling could actually "fast-track" final disposition of the case, giving the city the right to appeal the case to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal without asking Hughes' permission sooner.
Not surprisingly, anti-camera activists are still crying foul over the cameras turning back on. "She wants us to vote for her in November, but she doesn't want to obey the will of the people," anti-camera champion Mike Kubosh tells CultureMap. "Mayor Parker lied to me. The truth of the matter is she had this plan from the beginning."
Kubosh is referencing a conversation he had with the mayor on March 19 at the Lincoln Reagan Dinner, in which he says Parker told him that "irregardless of the federal judge's decision, she would not turn on the cameras."
The unfolding of the red light legislation is an intricate tale of cat and mouse. According to Mike Kubosh's brother Paul (an attorney and fellow red light camera opponent), the City of Houston filed a suit to terminate its five-year contract with red light camera operator, Arizona-based ATS on Nov. 24. "It was the only way the city could the case into federal court and get a favorable result," Paul says.
Explains Mike Kubosh, the case was given to U.S. Federal Judge David Hittner, the father of George Hittner, general counsel for ATS. When the elder Hittner recused himself, the matter was transferred to U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes, who, according to Mike Kubosh, has been friends with Hittner's family for "many years."
Judge Hughes ruled that the November 2010 vote to ban the cameras is invalid because of a 30-day deadline for reversing an ordinance from its original passage. Houston City Council passed the original ordinance to use cameras to record cars running red lights in 2004, rendering last year's vote illegitimate, the judge ruled. The brothers Kubosh say they are not surprised by a ruling in the cameras' favor considering the circumstances. "People could be convicted on less evidence than that," Paul Kubosh says.
"The judge is saying we had a referendum. In fact, we had a charter amendment, just as they did on the rain tax," Mike Kubosh says.
The attorney argues that the judge intentionally waited to make a decision after the legislative session ended. "We have the fact that he denied our intervention. It's been appealed to the 5th Circuit, in which case it will then go back to federal court," Mike Kubosh says.
Once there, he and his brother will continue their fight.
"We're going to put a finger on her nose and say she's a liar," Mike Kubosh says of Parker. "The citizens are going to get rid of the mayor. We will prevail. The citizens always do." Adds Paul Kubosh, "There's no way we're going to abandon the 180,000 people who stood with us on election night."