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Class-action lawsuit filed over Providence speed cameras

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Six Rhode Island residents and a car leasing company have filed a class-action lawsuit in Superior Court challenging multiple facets of the city of Providence’s speed camera program, including the language used on speeding tickets, the court that handles violations and the $95 fine itself.

The suit asks a judge to grant a temporary restraining order blocking the city from issuing any new speed camera violations or collecting on existing tickets and require the city repay any members of the class who received a speeding ticket from one of the cameras.

The plaintiffs are also asking for a judge to declare that the program is unconstitutional.

“The exact number and identities of Class Members and Subclass Members is unknown, but Plaintiffs are informed and believe that the proposed Class Members and Subclass Members each total in the thousands,” the suit states.

The plaintiffs include Roberta Ricci, Vincent Pizzi and Diana Dinobile of North Providence, Dachelle Threats of Providence, Abigail Torres of Pawtucket, John Borden of Johnston and North American Auto Leasing, LLC.

The lawsuit comes after Target 12 reported that city issued more than 12,000 speeding tickets in the first 35 days of the speed camera program, which started in January. A Municipal Court judge ended up dismissing dozens of tickets, although the city has been unable to say exactly how many violations were tossed out.

Rhode Island lawmakers first approved speed cameras in 2016 when they passed the Automated School-Zone-Speed-Enforcement System Act permitting municipalities to install them within a quarter-mile of any type of school. The Providence City Council voted last May to enter into a contract with Conduent State and Local Solutions Inc. that allowed for up to 15 speed cameras to be installed around the city.

Tickets can be issued for any vehicle caught traveling at least 11 miles per hour over the posted speed limit between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, according to the contract with Conduent, the private vendor that oversees both speed cameras and red light cameras in the city. The cameras are also portable, and the city’s contract with Conduent allows for two to be moved to new locations each week.

But the lawsuit argues the city has made numerous mistakes in implementing the program and issuing violations while also questioning whether Providence Municipal Court is the proper jurisdiction to adjudicate the alleged violations.

Among the allegations:

  • The violation notices do not specifically cite the state’s speeding laws; they only reference the law that allows for speed cameras;
  • Nothing in the state speed camera law gives Providence Municipal Court the power to adjudicate alleged violations. The law is silent on which court should handle cases;
  • The tickets state that violations “will not result in points and cannot be used to increase your insurance rates,” but the actual law states that penalties shall not be used for insurance rating purposes “until there is a final adjudication of the violation;”
  • The city “arbitrarily imposed a ninety-five dollar ($95.00) monetary fine” against alleged violators because nothing in the state law defines how much speeders should be fine;
  • None of the signs the city posted warning drivers about the cameras were within 100 feet of the school-zone area as required by the law.

The attorneys representing the plaintiffs are Peter Petrarca and Peter Wasylyk, two former Democratic state representatives. Neither were in office when the speed camera law was approved in 2016.

A spokesperson for Mayor Jorge Elorza said the city does not comment on ongoing litigation.

Correction: This report has been updated to reflect that the lawsuit was filed in Superior Court, not U.S. District Court.

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Dan McGowan (dmcgowan@wpri.com) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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