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R.I.P. Los Angeles Red-Light Camera Tickets: What This Means for the Rest of the County

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Wed, Mar 28, 2012 at 12:10 PM

click to enlarge To run, or not to run?
  • To run, or not to run?
The wait has paid off for all us rebels who refused to pay our red-light camera tickets!

LA Weekly reassured you of the good news all through 2011. In July, "L.A. City Council Says You Don't Have to Pay Your Red-Light Camera Tickets." In September, "Are You Sure I Don't Have to Pay My L.A. County Red-Light Camera Ticket?" And in October, "Calm Down, L.A., You Still Don't Have to Pay Them."

Yesterday, the L.A. Police Commission made it even more official:

They voted 3-0 "to formally stop collecting unpaid tickets," reports the LA Daily News. As of Saturday, there will no longer be a city mechanism to collect on those ball-busting, $475 envelopes from hell.

More from the Los Angeles Times:

"We are not going to pay the contractor to support the system anymore," said LAPD officer Michael Gregg, who has worked in the red-light camera program for the last four years. "Without that contract, we don't have access to the data -- the videos, the photos."

In addition, LAPD officers will no longer appear in court on red-light camera cases, he said.

Yay! Officially!

The larger question, though, remains what will happen if you don't pay a red-light camera ticket issued by any other city within L.A. County.

(Let us take this time to apologize to the dozens of people who email and call us every single day, with their own red-light scenario and frantic "Should I pay it?" rants. If we took the time to answer all of you, the news blog would go dark. Sorry! Try a lawyer?)

As we explained in previous articles on the subject, the L.A. County Superior Court -- who processes all red-light camera tickets -- treats them a little differently than most violations, perhaps due to their legally controversial nature.

Because here's the thing about red-light photos: Until you confirm the person in the photo is you, the court has no way of proving it.

Sherman Ellison, a top L.A. traffic lawyer, tells us that after months of dealing with red-light runners and court avoiders, he hasn't seen a shred of evidence of anyone's credit report or DMV record being affected by an unpaid ticket.

However, we've warned you from the beginning that you'll be terrorized by court notices and credit agencies, and that judges will be able to view your unpaid ticket on future trips to court. Various ticket blogs confirm as much:

"Over the last couple of years, we've gotten so many calls from people with 'failure to appears' who ignored their red-light camera tickets, and faced repercussions from ignoring their ticket. Many people who did nothing about their red-light camera ticket were facing phone calls and letters from collection agencies whom the court hired to go after them. Many were receiving letters from the court directly for failure to appears, threatening to suspend their driver's license and issue a warrant for their arrest."

But according to Ellison, the only way you'll get a "failure to appear" is if you respond to the ticket in any way. Yes, even if you just acknowledge the ticket to a court clerk over the phone.

Ellison, our know-all attorney on the red-light camera trail, says he's not recommending that you ignore the ticket. But if you do, based on his ample experience, here's what will happen (slash not happen):

If you are issued a red-light camera ticket in Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Culver City, Inglewood, Hawthorne or any other municipality within L.A. County, it will be processed by the L.A. Superior Court. And if you ignore that ticket cold-turkey -- no contact whatsoever -- the court will send you, or whoever is the registered owner of the vehicle, scary mail. If you continue not responding, you'll start getting even scarier collections letters from GC Services. But if you ignore those, your ticket will be tucked away in the court's internal files.

As far as Ellison knows, the violation will not show up on your credit report or DMV record. So your insurance company has no way of seeing it, either.

One more important note: If you end up in traffic court for some other violation, and the judge asks you about that red-light skeleton in your closet, the same ignore-at-all-costs rule applies. "If you then acknowledge, 'I thought those were being dismissed,' you are now under the jurisdiction of the court," says Ellison.

"It's an ethic and a moral issue," he says. "If living with this unknown works for you, then it's your call."

Meanwhile, the war between justice-seekers who call the tickets bogus, and cities/courts greedy for indirect taxation, rages on. In a blow to the former, the L.A. superior Court recently ruled that red-light camera photos are legit evidence, and cannot be dismissed as hearsay.

But in a blow to the latter, the L.A. Police Commission totally came through for us yesterday. Cheers to that.

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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