Class Action Suit Aims to Stop School Bus Stop Arm Camera Tickets

A bad month for Dallas County schools is getting worse.

A week after NBC 5 Investigates revealed hundreds of school bus drivers ran red lights with no punishments, the company operating the buses now faces a new lawsuit.

It's a class action suit filed by some Dallas County residents who received tickets from stop arm cameras mounted on school buses.

Dallas County schools has spent millions installing those cameras in the name of safety.

But some frustrated people who got tickets in the mail now argue the camera program is illegal -- and they're suing to stop it.

That is why Dallas County schools said it installed cameras on buses to crack down on drivers who put kids in danger, flying past school bus stop signs.

"That is a tangible improvement in the safety of our children," said Larry Duncan with Dallas County schools.

But a new class action lawsuit filed in Dallas County argues the school bus camera ticket program is based on a Dallas city ordinance that's "unconstitutional, void, and unenforceable."

"They took my money, but they couldn't prove I did anything wrong. They need to stop," said plaintiff Joseph Lafreniere.

Joseph Lafreniere is one of the people suing.

He received a stop arm ticket, but said he's not sure he was driving the car.

"You know, at the time, there were a few people living in my house and they all have driver's licenses," Lafreniere said.

But the ticket is still issued to the person who owns the car.

Lafreniere and his lawyer said that leaves some car owners unfairly punished for something they didn't do.

"The fine is on you - and the money's in the pocket of Dallas County schools," Attorney LeDouglas Johnson.

Attorney LeDouglas Johnson also argued school bus camera tickets were never specifically authorized by the state legislature.

Instead Dallas County schools has worked with local cities to write their own camera ordinances -- which Johnson said rob people of their right to a jury trial and their right to appeal beyond a local municipal court.

"The constitution is clear about the rights we have as Texas citizens it's clear that we have a right to a trial by jury - it's clear that a person is not to be held responsible for something they didn't do," Johnson said.

But Dallas County schools fired back on Wednesday, accusing the people who filed the suit of looking for an easy way out.

"Four of the five appealed all the way to municipal court and were denied," Duncan said. "Now they're looking for a legal loophole over $300."

DCS provided legal opinions Wednesday from five different city attorneys, all saying the camera program is legal.

And DCS said it will fight to keep snapping pictures of cars that break the law.

"It's more than legal it's about student safety," Duncan said.

Both sides are confident they will prevail in court.

An attorney in Richardson recently used a somewhat similar strategy to successfully fight a red light camera ticket, but that ruling is expected to be appealed.

If Dallas County loses these cases it would be a big blow to the district.

They have invested millions of dollars in the camera program. They now run camera programs for other cities across the state -- and they need the money from the tickets to cover the costs.

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