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The Two Men Who Ended Red Light Camera Tickets in Missouri

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
November 21, 2022 3:02 am

The Two Men Who Ended Red Light Camera Tickets in Missouri

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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November 21, 2022 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Hugh Eastwood and Bevis Schock are civil rights lawyers in St. Louis.  They filed suit in three separate cases against the red light cameras. All three cases were heard by Missouri Supreme Court in one mammoth morning argument.

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There are a bunch more reasons why all of us as taxpayers were annoyed and irritated by the red light camera ticket. Hugh Eastwood and Beavis Shock decided to do something about it. They're civil rights lawyers in St. Louis, and they filed three separate cases, all three of which were heard by the Missouri Supreme Court in one big morning argument.

Here's Beavis Shock and Hugh Eastwood to tell their story. I got into civil rights law 25 years ago, early in my practice. I ended up working on a civil rights case on a referral. I felt great about it.

I won my first civil rights trial, and I decided that I would vastly focus on that in my practice, which I have done. So the red light camera tickets cranked up, and when they first started, it was just a little small program, and the aldermen, I don't think when they passed it, they had any idea what it would turn into. But in St. Louis, they were issuing these tickets left and right, and I thought that this idea of giving people tickets for running through a red light by a tenth of a second, which a cop would have just ignored, shortening the yellows, which they were doing to increase the revenue, early morning people coming home from coffee or going to coffee, no right on red. There's nobody within two miles, right? The intersection is completely unattended, so the person goes ahead and goes right on red, even though it's a no right on red, and here comes a red light camera ticket. No officer would bother with anybody, or if the officer did bother, might pull the person over and say, hey, you know you're not supposed to do that. I'm not going to give you a ticket.

There's nobody around. It took the human judgment part out of it, which I didn't like. And then what happened was, a radio personality named Charlie Brennan got one of these tickets, and he called me during a break in the show and briefly explained, and I said, I will do it on the condition that we do the entire representation on the air. And he said, okay, I stayed pulled over.

We did the first interview right there, and every single interview I did with Charlie started with the same question. Charlie, you have a right to a confidential relationship with your attorney. Would you like to waive that today, because there are hundreds of thousands of people listening?

This is the number one station in St. Louis, the Mighty Mox, KMOX, the Blowtorch of the Midwest. And he said, yes, I would be this. I'd like to give up my right to confidentiality. And then we discussed right there, like he was a brand new client, and I agreed to represent him in the case, because I didn't like the way it smelled.

At the end of the day, it was my nose that told me this is wrong and it's bad. And then we ended up with three or four clients, and we ended up with three cases at the Supreme Court of Missouri, and we won them all after about four years. I'd say that it struck me as fundamentally unfair, and that was a sentiment I noticed a lot of people having.

When we would go on the radio with our client, who was a radio host, with our client, who was a radio host, the switchboard would light up when this topic came up. And I think it just struck a chord that this was wrong, it was unfair, and it defended a lot of our fundamental notions of how the relationship between the community and the police should be, and also how our court system should work. And remember, most people only interact with the court system in municipal court on a traffic ticket. I mean, most people aren't getting arrested for serious crimes, which is a good thing. Most people aren't being hauled into court and being sued on some complicated theory, which again is a good thing. So most people don't have much litigation in their life, and if they have a negative interaction with the government, it's going to be for something pretty minor.

They're going to get a ticket and have to go to municipal court. So it's really important for the relationship between the government and the community for that process to be seen as fair, and also for it to be seen as pursuing justice rather than for-profit motive. And so there's a phrase, which is not mine, which is taxation by citation, and that was what was going on here. And we knew that this was a revenue grab because one of the arguments the cities had in these cases is that we need this money.

And that's what struck me as unfair. This wasn't about a legitimate exercise of the police power to promote traffic safety. In fact, if they was about traffic safety, they would care about who the driver was after all.

Here, they didn't care. We're just going to go after the owner. One of the things in the red light camera cases was that people who were not driving were getting tickets for running a red light. It was that the owner would get the ticket, the owner of the car, because it was done by license plate, and then who owned that car. That violates some basic principles of how our criminal law works. Many of the criminal rights, but not all of them, are in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. Your right to remain silent, right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against you, the right to be confronted with the witnesses against you. These are all in those amendments. But interestingly, the right to be presumed innocent is not in those amendments, but in those amendments. Is not in those amendments, but it's deeply ingrained in our case law and our system of jurisprudence from the common law of England.

We felt that one of the effects of these cases was to help make those rights further enshrined in the law. We had cases from different cities in our region. Two of the cases we were in a defensive posture, right, defending someone who owned a car from a red light ticket or from, in Charlie Brennan's case, a speeding ticket detective with a camera.

The other case, we were offensive. We were seeking to get an injunction to shut down the City of St. Louis camera program, and everyone showed up, including the private camera company. They had their own lawyers, very good lawyers, lawyers that I respect, very talented, skillful, well-paid lawyers. The debt collectors who were trying to chase people down for these tickets, they had their own lawyers. Everyone was there. There were a lot of lawyers in the courtroom. But yes, this was not about money for us.

This was not a class action. This was really shutting down a system, and we were able to do that. I will say in candor that we were a little nervous because after this wonderful unprecedented experience of having three Missouri Supreme Court opinions issue in one day, all in your favor, we thought, I mean, that's about as good as it gets. We had some nerves because we read a kind of narrow path for these cities to come back and have another bite at the apple with these red light camera programs.

And so we kind of thought it might be like whack-a-mole. But so far in the St. Louis region, that has not been the case. Let me add that I think we knew when we were going through those several years that if we won, it would help our business, help our business more than all the advertising in the world. In fact, being on The Charlie Brennan Show, this radio show that has a huge following, you really can't pay for advertising like that.

No, you can't pay for publicity like that or advertising like that. When we come back, more of this not merely amusing piece because it's making us all smile listening to it, but it gets you a bit angry, too. And this is where our great legal system comes into play.

And great lawyers like you, Eastwood and Beavis Shock, their stories continue the red light traffic caper here on Our American Stories. Passing the ball is fun. The Frito-Lay pass the ball challenge is more fun. Frito-Lay, the official USA snack of the FIFA World Cup 2022 is giving you the chance to win custom soccer swag and amazing prizes by joining their pass the ball challenge. To enter, just scan the QR code on specially marked bags of Lay's Cheetos and Doritos and look for the Golden World Soccer Ball. Be part of history by adding your picture to the golden ball. Explore the ever-growing soccer community, find friends on the ball and receive a one of a kind collectible NFT. Then pass the ball to fellow soccer fans and play daily games for a chance to score custom swag like limited edition jerseys, duffel bags, scarves and balls. Grab a specially marked bag of Lay's Cheetos or Doritos or visit Frito-Lay score.com now to join the pass the ball challenge and you can win amazing Frito-Lay prizes. No purchase necessary.

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One good favorable article in the paper about a news story about a win does more than all the buses and all the billboards in the world because it helps not only get one's name in the public eye so people call for help but when one walks into a judge's courtroom and the judge knows hey this guy got me out of my red light camera ticket that helps and it doesn't mean the judge isn't going to follow the law and rule as he or she sees fit but it does mean that our papers will be read with care so we we got something out of it and to this day people walk up to me on the street and say aren't you be the shock didn't you do that red light camera thing yes thank you so much that's such a good thing you did for this community that's a big deal and the problem with the whole system of course is that usually the fines were around 100 bucks sometimes a little more and the problem is it's just not worth it for most people to fight to take time off from their jobs or their lives over a hundred dollars that can be a lot of money to some people but it's not enough money to mount a serious legal defense and so there was this very clever thing that the red light camera companies which were for-profit companies were doing which was pitching these very cynical strategies to municipalities as a way to raise money and we knew these companies were corrupt because it one of the companies called red flex had executives go to prison they also had officials in chicago and other places get investigated by the federal doj and go to prison so there was something that was really offensive about this the other thing is it was really a i guess what you could call a cross-ideological uh sense of outrage most people driving around living their lives thought that this was unfair and that was wrong and we know from policing that when policing works it's because the police have trust with the community and that usually involves old-fashioned things like going out and being a regular beat cop in the community you could be running traffic i suspect people don't like getting speeding tickets or traffic tickets but at the same time if this person is actually in the community and is someone who is building trust with the community that's policing that works and so there really wasn't any evidence that red light cameras were having much of a traffic safety function a lot or the only evidence was city officials saying you know what yep in our view they promote traffic safety which we just thought was cynical in one of these cases we actually went on to have a civil trial against the city and when the jury saw the revenue that the city was making the spike in revenue in association with in fact issuing warrants they found in favor of our client and gave her a hundred thousand dollars so i guess the final thing it was an opportunity to go all the way to the missouri supreme court and at the time as a newer lawyer this was a great case to work on and i also knew that if i really just fouled this whole thing up and really did a terrible job for my client which was not my goal that at least the worst case my client would only be out a hundred dollars so if my that was about the limit of my malpractice exposure as a young lawyer i would add that it was perverse that people who were trying to be good citizens suffered more than scofflaws and the reason for that was that if people didn't pay all they got were a few letters saying pay nothing happened to them there was no warrant for their arrest there was no uh nothing on the driver's license nothing happened so the this most citizens really believe in the rule of law that we all understand once that disappears a lot of our liberties will disappear and good citizens therefore paid the hundred dollars and the bad citizens didn't and nothing happened to them so bad conduct was rewarded and the working class person with good intentions who understands the importance of the rule of law is dramatically affected and the scofflaw schmuck neighbor gets the ticket and doesn't care and that contributes to a decay in our community's ability to live together in a civil manner and that was a part of it that really bothered me i would also say and we got into this in our case involving the city of saint peters uh this excerpt of saint louis the cynicism i think of the city's arguments in favor for these programs was was detected by the jury and the city's arguments were rejected so for example the city said well this is how we pay for seniors to have transportation this idea being that if somehow you shut down this red light camera program you're going to leave you know impoverished grandmothers on the side of the road unable to travel that was just baloney guess what those programs existed before red light cameras and they exist today i suppose there's political support for them and it provides a service to members of the community and that's and and that's a legitimate government function but the point is is don't act like we're attacking grandmothers these cynicism of the of the arguments in favor of these programs i think is what helped doom them they're what really was not political support for these it was taxation by citation which is an improper use of the police power we should not be writing tickets to people or or issuing fines to generate revenue and so what that judgment does is force not just saint louis county but cities and counties throughout the state of missouri and perhaps nationally because it's applying the first amendment first amendment doesn't uh change but you cross the state line what it does is force them to go through their books examine their laws and rewrite that and i know that beavis knows firsthand from a conversation he had with a lawyer who practices uh on the government side that's exactly what they're doing and that's a good thing i mean the idea that you'd ever mix for-profit business and criminal law enforcement or traffic enforcement is nuts right because the incentives are all perverse an interesting an interesting question is what will happen in other states does this radio broadcast affect any decisions by lawyers to do this attack these systems one of the things that might happen is people might listen to this and some lawyer and and it needs to be a lawyer with some experience in appellate work who's argued in the supreme court of the state before who's ready to go it's got to be somebody and the big law firms will never do it right because they are part of the establishment they love that money coming into the government because they've got government contracts to write up the law and bond deals for for uh municipal buildings and things so it takes a certain level of craziness to want to do something like this uh when we think about america john maynard kane said we're all dead in the long run well my kids aren't going to be dead and their kids aren't going to be dead and their kids kids aren't going to be dead they're going to be alive and what a raw deal would we give to our descendants if we let america go if we let the the delicate balances of the constitution and the principles of the declaration be set aside because they're not convenient right now or because people fail to recognize how well they work and what they mean and i understand that the war never ends but to be able to work on a case like the red light camera cases is an opportunity to live in to those beliefs that we have a duty to our descendants who we don't know yet and both my own gene pool my own kids and their kids but everybody else's kids too george washington didn't have any kids that didn't matter to him it doesn't matter whether you do or not we're part of a of a larger community here and great job on that piece by greg hengler and a special thanks to you eastwood and to be the shock what a great story those two guys are both civil rights lawyers in st louis and look they're right i mean in the end the country is formed because of those general warrants and writs of assistance that allowed british troops to just come in and search away in american homes was literally the founding reason and the impetus for the declaration and for everything else that happened in the constitution and this was as the lawyer said taxation by citation government is here to serve us we're not here to serve the government great work by both you eastwood and be the shock for all the lawyer jokes that you've heard this is a nation of laws and when you need one you want a good lawyer to defend your civil rights a great story about the rule of law and so much more here on our american stories power 2022 i heart radio jingle ball presented by capital one starring jr the biggest holiday party of the year jingle ball coming live from new york to the cw app and cwtv.com on december 9th when the world gets in the way of your music try the new bows quiet comfort earbuds too next-gen earbuds uniquely tuned to the shape of your ears 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Whisper: medium.en / 2022-11-21 04:34:00 / 2022-11-21 04:43:14 / 9

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