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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, June 15, 2002

Judge's gavel ends van cam citations saga

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer

A judge in Wai'anae yesterday threw out the last handful of traffic camera citations, all but ending the public's involvement in the unpopular program.

"It's a good feeling to know it's all over," said Donald Josue, who was photographed driving his girlfriend's car at 6 mph over the limit just hours before Gov. Ben Cayetano ordered the van cameras off the road May 4.

Like more than a dozen others who showed up at Wai'anae District Court yesterday, Josue had his case resolved without a word of explanation. No chance to complain. No need to explain.

District Judge Christopher McKenzie, hearing traffic violation cases that ranged from parking tickets to drunken driving, simply asked all those with traffic camera citations to step forward as the court session began and one by one and told them the cases were dismissed. All the cases were dealt with in about 10 minutes.

More than 100 traffic camera cases were scheduled for yesterday. Many citation holders had submitted written declarations that they weren't driving or written statements about why their cases should be dismissed. That left 58 cases on the day's docket. Those who showed up were cleared; those who didn't appear will receive default judgments from the court and still face fines.

A single case set for Monday in Wai'anae will be the last of the civil hearings for van cam ticket holders, said Judiciary spokesman Marsha Kitigawa.

"That's the way the system works, I guess " said Gilmore Awong, who like most others appearing yesterday, didn't resent having to go through the formalities of spending a few minutes in court to avoid fines and fees that could begin at $67.

For Eric Kaplan, though, it was a welcome end to court appearances and bureaucratic hassles. Kaplan, a risk management consultant for Thrifty Car Rental, said he helped deal with more than 400 citations the company received for cars driven by visitors.

"It took up an insane amount of time," Kaplan said. "A lot of drivers didn't even know they got a ticket until their vacation was over. We worked on every one so nobody would get in trouble. Hopefully those people will be able to come back to Hawai'i without feeling like they got burned."

Although the four-month experiment with traffic cameras ended nearly six weeks ago, money from the program has continued to trickle into the state with some people opting to pay their fines, Kitigawa said. Transportation Department officials said they had received $56,946 as of April 15 for paid citations from the Judiciary.

Meanwhile, the state Attorney General's office says it has yet to receive an expected claim from ACS, State and Local Solutions, the private company which operated the camera for the state. Officials have estimated the company could ask the state to pay between $1 million and $3 million for the early termination of its contract.

Yesterday, though, the whole program seemed like a fading nightmare for those leaving the Wai'anae court. Most people said the cameras had some merit but thought the state had bungled the handling of the program, citing old grievances about the lack of police involvement, private profit and an unreasonable threshold for issuing tickets.

"Kind of humbug they still make you come to court after all this," someone whispered inside the courtroom.

"No, it's humbug that they started the thing in the first place," said Bubba Ligon, who was awaiting his turn before the judge on unrelated traffic charges.

Reach Mike Leidemann at 525-5460 or mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.