Rush to Judgment

Commerce City lets a private company issue speeding tickets--and causes a pileup.

The city attorney offered Orosz a two-point reduction if he simply paid his fine and let the matter lie. Orosz decided to fight it. "I figured the worst thing that could happen was that I'd have to pay up for the ticket and the court costs," says Orosz, who had never fought a ticket before. "The reduced points would be worth that alone. Besides, the city attorney kind of torqued me off."

Photo radar has angered some legislators as well. Senate Bill 36, pushed by Highlands Ranch senator Dick Mutzebaugh and Colorado Springs representative Ron May, proposes a ban on photo-radar systems in Colorado. A similar bill was passed in Utah, but ATS's Tuton contends that this was not because residents of West Valley City, a suburb of Salt Lake City that used an ATS system, were upset with photo radar. Tuton claims that a state legislator was caught speeding by the system and took his complaint back to the office. Photo radar in Utah is now restricted to school zones only.

Representative May argues that the sheer number of citations being issued by the system has created "a humongous overload" at the state Department of Motor Vehicles. The figures back him up: DMV officials say they normally receive an average of 2,000 traffic citations annually from Commerce City. From August to December 1996 they received about 8,000.

"Not only is this a really big problem for the DMV," says May, "but I personally have a problem with the way these independent contractors are being paid on commission." As of last week, the bill, which has been amended several times, was scheduled to be heard by the House Appropriations Committee.

Orosz decided that instead of waiting for legislators to get around to the issue, he was going to try to pull the plug himself. He says he did exhaustive library research, studying law texts, science journals and radar manuals. By the time his court date arrived, he was armed with an extensive report complete with footnotes, diagrams and references that he was confident would blow ATS away. "It was sort of a flashback to my college research-paper days," he says. "But I figured that if I was going to complain, I should put my money where my mouth was and lay the whole thing out. I guess it became sort of a pride thing, a sense of honor about who was going to win."

Unfortunately for him, he never got his day in court: The city attorney told him that the case against him had been dropped because the tuning fork used to calibrate the radar equipment had not been certified by the State of Colorado.

In fact, not one photo-radar ticket has made it to trial in Commerce City. Eileen Rowe says technicalities such as the one in Orosz's case have forced the city to throw out several cases, whether they were challenged or not.

Is Commerce City afraid of a court challenge? City Attorney Tom Merrigan insists he's as eager as Orosz to go to trial over photo radar. "The system is reliable and it works," he says. "I think that for the most part, this is a case where we've built a better mousetrap and the mice are complaining.

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