Thursday, May 10, 2012
Supreme Court to Rule on Evidence in Red Light Camera Cases
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday agreed to decide what foundation must be laid for the admission of evidence from red light cameras in traffic court.
The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, granted review in People v. Goldsmith, B231678. The Court of Appeal for this district, Div. Three, ruled Feb. 28 that testimony on the reliability and accuracy of computer hardware and software that make up an automated traffic light enforcement system is not required as a prerequisite to admission of evidence generated by the computer.
The high court, in an order signed by all seven justices, said it would limit its review to two questions:
“What testimony, if any, regarding the accuracy and reliability of the automated traffic enforcement system (ATES) is required as a prerequisite to admission of the ATES-generated evidence?”; and
“Is the ATES evidence hearsay and, if so, do any exceptions apply?”
The lower panel affirmed the red-light camera conviction of Carmen Goldsmith, rejecting her claim that computer-generated photographs and a video of her allegedly running a red light were improperly admitted at her trial in Inglewood.
An investigator for the Inglewood Police Department testified at Goldsmith’s trial that he inspected the traffic signal at the intersection of Centinela Ave. and Beach Ave. on a monthly basis and that the average yellow light interval in February and March 2009 was a little over four seconds. The California Highway Patrol has established a minimum interval of 3.9 seconds for a 40-miles-per-hour highway.
The investigator explained that the city’s automated traffic enforcement system, operated by the IPD but maintained by Redflex Traffic Systems, generates three digital photographs and a 12-second video when sensors indicate that a car is in the intersection while the light is red.
One photograph in the sequence will show the care behind the limit line, a second will show the vehicle in the intersection, and the third will show the license plate. The system will store information on the hard disc of a computer at the scene, and Redflex will retrieve the information online.
A police office then reviews the photographs before a citation is printed or mailed.
In Goldsmith’s case, the data bar on the photos indicated that the light had been red for 0.27 seconds before Goldsmith entered the intersection and that she was still in the red-lighted intersection 0.66 seconds later.
The court found her guilty and fined her $436. The Los Angeles Superior Court Appellate Division affirmed, holding that the investigator’s testimony established an adequate foundation, that the accuracy of evidence generated by the data system was presumed, and that the defendant failed to rebut the presumption.
In doing so, the panel rejected the holding of People v. Khaled (2010) 186 Cal.App.4th Supp. 1.
Khaled threw out a red-light camera conviction, saying the police officer’s testimony lacked foundation because the office did not have “the necessary knowledge of underlying workings, maintenance, or recordkeeping of [the] Redflex Traffic System.” This district’s Div. Seven followed Khaled in People v. Borzakian, B227948, which was filed Jan. 23 and certified for publication Feb. 10.
That case concerned a ticket given to a local attorney, Annette Borzakian, by the Beverly Hills Police Department. The city did not ask the Supreme Court for review, but asked that the opinion be depublished.
The high court, in a separate order yesterday, denied the city’s request, but granted review on its own motion and deferred briefing in the case pending further action in the Goldsmith case.
The Court of Appeal opinion in that case was written by Justice Patti Kitching, who said the evidence was admissible under Evidence Code Secs. 1552(a) and 1553. Those sections establish a presumption that printed representations of computer information and of images stored on a video or digital medium are accurate representations of the computer information and images they purport to represent.
The photographs and video were not hearsay, and the data printed on the photographs by the computer was not hearsay, the justice added, so it was not necessary to establish a hearsay exception in order to admit the evidence.
Borzakian, Kitching concluded, was inconsistent with earlier cases holding that testimony regarding the reliability of computer records is not a prerequisite to their admission.
In other conference action, the justices:
•Denied review and depublication in Marken v. Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (2012) 202 Cal.App.4th 1250, decided Jan. 24 by Div. Seven of this district’s Court of Appeal.
The court held that the public interest in learning the details of an investigation into a substantiated complaint of sexual harassment by a schoolteacher outweighs the teacher’s right to privacy.
It affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ruth Ann Kwan’s order denying Avi Marken’s motion for a preliminary injunction. The Santa Monica High School math teacher sought to bar the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District from releasing the investigation report and reprimand resulting from a 2008 complaint by the parent of a student.
Presiding Justice Dennis Perluss, writing for the panel, said that Marken had standing to sue to prevent the district from disclosing his personnel records under the California Public Records Act. But Kwan did not abuse her discretion by allowing the district to make the disclosure, the presiding justice concluded.
Perluss rejected the contention that the right to privacy in the state Constitution, and the employee privacy provisions of the Government Code and Education Code, prohibit disclosure under the circumstances. He cited Proposition 59, which provides that exemptions from, and prohibitions against, disclosure are to be interpreted narrowly, and Government Code Sec. 6254(c), which exempts personnel records from disclosure only if the invasion of privacy is “unwarranted.”
In this case, the jurist concluded, disclosure was warranted because “Marken occupies a position of trust and responsibility as a classroom teacher, and the public has a legitimate interest in knowing whether and how the District enforces its sexual harassment policy.”
•Left standing an arbitrator’s award of nearly $750,000 in attorney fees and costs to former Santa Barbara News-Press editor, growing out of his longstanding battle with his former boss, Wendy McCaw.
The McCaw company that owns the newspaper, Ampersand Publications, LLC, and Roberts filed competing defamation claims against each other, which were assigned by the American Arbitration Association to Deborah Rothman, a Los Angeles attorney with extensive experience in arbitration and mediation.
Roberts, along with a number of other staff members, resigned in 2006 after what they said was unwarranted interference in news operations by McCaw. McCaw responded that she had an obligation to prevent Roberts and the reporters from injecting their personal biases into their news reports.
Rothman issued an arbitration award in October 2009. She rejected both parties’ claims against each other, but concluded that Roberts was the prevailing party and awarded him more than $629,000 in attorney fees, more than $93,000 for costs, and $25,000 as reimbursement for arbitration fees he had advanced after Rothman suspended the arbitration.
The suspension occurred because Ampersand refused to pay more than $48,000 in fees, claiming Rothman had overbilled.
Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge James W. Brown confirmed the award. Div. Six of this district’s Court of Appeal affirmed, saying Rothman had acted within her authority in reopening the hearing after making an interim award indicating she was inclined to find that Roberts had committed defamation or breach of fiduciary duty and that Ampersand had defamed Roberts.
The case, decided Feb. 22 in an unpublished opinion, is Ampersand Publishing, LLC v. Roberts, B223467.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company