Montgomery County drops case of Damascus speed camera ticket -- Gazette.Net


This story was corrected on July 8, 2013. An explanation follows.

A Damascus man beat a speed camera ticket in Montgomery County. Now, he wants everyone else to beat them, too.

Paul Layer was prepared July 1 to fight a ticket he received on Dec. 20, 2012, from a camera at 27300 Ridge Road in Damascus. But Montgomery County Circuit Judge John Debelius decided to drop the case because there was not enough evidence to support issuing the ticket.

The camera’s location had not been sufficiently published on the county police department’s website, which is required by a state statute. The statute requires the location of speed cameras to be published in a newspaper of general distribution and on the website.

“In the case of this speed camera, they never did that,” said Layer, a former lawyer for the federal government.

The county has 56 fixed-pole cameras, 20 portable cameras and six mobile cameras in vans, Montgomery County Police Capt. Thomas Didone said. The number of portable cameras will soon increase to 30.

The police department’s website has an interactive map of these locations.

Layer wants the county to issue refunds to people who paid tickets for the Damascus camera, since it was operating against the statutory framework. He encouraged people who drive on Ridge Road to contact their county representatives.

“This is a flaw,” he said. “But they haven’t missed a beat in issuing tickets and collecting fines. And they’re continuing to defend it in the district court.”

Layer said he will consider filing an injunction to keep his case active so he can prove tickets from this camera are invalid. He would like to see the camera taken down.

“The county is now on record for not being able to defend that camera,” he said. “So why is it still operating? Why is it still issuing tickets?”

Assistant County Attorney David Stevenson said he recognized in court that the location of the Damascus camera was not published on the website, and asked the judge to dismiss the case. The camera location was published in The Montgomery County Sentinel on Aug. 23.

The advertisement said the camera was placed along Ridge Road, in between Sweepstakes and Davis Mill roads. Layer believes this does not constitute a location under the statute.

When Layer received his ticket, the Automated Traffic Enforcement Unit — which is responsible for the operation of the department’s Red Light Camera Enforcement program and Safe Speed program — was moving its office from Research Boulevard in Rockville to Edison Park Drive in Gaithersburg. Throughout the move, the police department’s website was not updated, Stevenson said.

“We’re not sure that we never had this location published on the website, but we couldn’t prove it because copies of changes were not being backed up,” Stevenson said. “Therefore, it wouldn’t be fair to prosecute him.”

As of Feb. 1, 2013, the location of the camera was published on the police department’s website, but it might not have been there before then, according to Stevenson.

“It’s our intent to let people know where the speed cameras are,” Didone said. “It’s not a hidden process. The goal is to get people to slow down.”

The citation was for driving 43 mph in a 30 mph zone.

Layer wasn’t sure. “I have no idea whether I was speeding or not,” he said.

If there are other citations from the Damascus camera from December 2012 or January 2013 that raise this issue in court, Stevenson said, it will be difficult to prosecute.

Tickets sent from this camera after January 2013 stand because speeding violations still have occurred and the notification of the camera’s location is documented, Stevenson said.

Layer is not the only one who has beaten a Montgomery County speeding camera ticket.

Attorney Robin Ficker won a case on Jan. 14, when his ticket from a camera on Jones Mill Bridge Road in Bethesda was dropped. The law requires that speed cameras be placed in residential districts or school zones. But the camera on Jones Mill Bridge Road was improperly placed near the Columbia Country Club and the Bethesda National Medical Center, according to Ficker.

Two cameras on Jones Mill Bridge Road were moved around the corridor after the case was dismissed, but not because of the ruling, Didone said. These cameras are moved periodically to different sites along the corridor, so people comply with the speed limit for the entire area.

These cameras are in a residential district, with houses 300 feet from the road, Didone said.

“The law doesn’t say the cameras have to be within 300 feet of the residences,” he said. But Ficker disputes that interpretation.

Ficker received an overdue notice on his ticket after his court case, but it was also dropped.

“Why do you have to be a lawyer to know whether you have to pay a speed camera ticket?” he said.

Editor’s note: The date of The Sentinel advertisement was incorrect. Paul Layer’s employment was incorrect. Because Layer’s case was dismissed, Montgomery County Police altered its assertion that Layer was driving 43 mph.