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Fifth Circuit Puts the Kubosh on Houston Red-Light Cameras

By Robyn Hagan Cain on January 25, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Randall and Francis Kubosh are our heroes.

While some people just whine about red-light cameras, the Kuboshes used $200,000 of their own money to fund a grassroots campaign to end Houston red-light cameras.

Their efforts, however, led to a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals tiff with the City of Houston and American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the company that had a contract to operate the Houston red-light cameras.

On the day that the Houston City Council enacted an ordinance reflecting the red-light camera ban election results, Houston terminated ATS's contract and sued for a declaratory judgment in federal court, seeking a declaration of rights between ATS and the City over the contract's status. ATS responded with a demand that Houston cease its termination effort. The company counterclaimed, alleging that the charter amendment election and subsequent ordinances were invalid, ultra vires, and unconstitutional.

The Kuboshes filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit, concerned that Houston would raise a weak defense of the election, but their motion was denied, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Last summer, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes ruled that the referendum was improperly placed on the ballot, the election result was invalid, and that Houston could not be forced to turn off the cameras, reports the Chronicle.

Yesterday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case, allowing the Kuboshes to intervene.

The court ruled that there was neither federal nor state authority to preclude the couple from intervening. It further noted, "These intervenors are unique because they engineered the drive that led to a city charter amendment over the nearly unanimous, well funded, and longstanding opposition of the Mayor and City Council. They have demonstrated a particular interest in cementing their electoral victory and defending the charter amendment itself."

The Fifth Circuit also agreed that there were "substantial doubts" about Houston's "motives and conduct" in its defense of the red-light ban charter amendment. The court reasoned that Houston stood to lose millions of dollars of revenue "during a period of considerable economic uncertainty" if the amendment survived the lawsuit, and that Judge Hughes erred in denying the Kuboshes' motion to intervene.

The Kuboshes' renewed motion to intervene, however, may be too late. After Judge Hughes' ruling last summer, the City Council ordered that the Houston red-light cameras be deactivated. Now, Houston and ATS are close to reaching a settlement in their contract dispute, reports

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