DES MOINES — The multi-year fight over whether the city must turn over records from the RedSpeed automated system reached its peak Thursday with a hearing before the Iowa Supreme Court.
The city has argued the records, which reveal which vehicles were caught speeding by the system and which of those were issued tickets, are not public record. Lower courts have disagreed, saying former police officer Mark Milligan should be given those records.
In November 2017, the district court found there was “no justification” for withholding the records and noted that both federal and state laws exempted information about driving violations from prohibitions against release of personal information.
The Iowa Supreme Court heard the city’s appeal of the case Thursday afternoon. In oral arguments, Skylar Linkemann, the city’s attorney, focused on the federal law the city claims prohibits the release of records. Justifying the earlier verdict would require the court “to essentially rewrite the statute to include words and phrases that are not in the statute.”
In this case, Linkemann said, the use of non-public databases of information renders the list of people caught speeding by the RedSpeed system privileged information.
“Just because someone makes a public records request doesn’t mean law enforcement has to provide the information,” Linkemann said.
Justice David Wiggins asked whether Amber Alerts violate the law, since they include descriptions of vehicles and drivers. No, replied Linkemann, because they’re based on eyewitness accounts.
“So every time they have an Amber Alert there’s someone who tells them what the license plate is?” Wiggins asked skeptically.
Justice Christopher McDonald also asked Linkemann to clarify the difference between the information on a traffic ticket issued by an officer, which is indisputably public record, and one issued by RedSpeed.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s any additional information being exposed than there was before,” he said.
Steven Gardner, Milligan’s attorney, argued that even if the database itself is shielded, its use for law enforcement purposes renders the result of that use public. He said the city’s claims in the argument the records are not public are unprecedented.
“It’s never been raised before. First time in the country,” he said.
Justice Susan Christensen noted the RedSpeed tickets were not criminal violations, nor did they appear on a driver’s record. She said that was clearly to avoid disputes over who was driving a vehicle when it was not stopped and the driver observed by an officer.
Gardner said the city’s statute allowed no such defenses, and only permitted claims if a vehicle was stolen. Further, he argued, if a vehicle’s owner contested the citation it was transformed to a regular traffic ticket.
The court’s opinion will be issued at a later date. There is no set timeline for a decision.