OTTUMWA — The fight over records from the RedSpeed camera car will go before the Iowa Supreme Court next month.
The city began using a radar-equipped vehicle to issue civil citations for speeding in 2016. Supporters said it was aimed at safety, and that the knowledge people could be ticketed for speeding without an officer being present would cause people to slow down. Critics said it was a money grab.
One of the unanswered questions is who, if anyone, was let off the hook when caught speeding. City officials said from the start that the citations would be reviewed and some reasonable leeway would be given. That included people caught driving less than six miles per hour over the speed limit, an action that would have triggered the automated system.
Records showing who was caught speeding, and whether those people were issued citations after review, have never been made public. In fact, the city has fought hard to keep those records out of the public eye. Former Ottumwa police officer Mark Milligan sued for the records, one of several legal actions he brought in the wake of his firing. Several were settled last month, but the RedSpeed case has not been among them.
The city lost on the issue at the district court level. Judge Randy DeGeest ruled the city’s claim the records were confidential under both state and federal laws was wrong. He found “no justification” in either for withholding the names.
“The name of speed regulation violators, which was requested, is information on driving violations, and is therefore, not confidential information … The Defendants argument that the names requested by the Plaintiff are confidential fails,” DeGeest ruled.
Milligan brought the case under Iowa’s open records law, which allows courts to award plaintiffs compensation for their legal fees if they win. DeGeest ordered Ottumwa to pay more than $57,000 in attorney fees. The city has challenged both the amount and the ruling.
RedSpeed terminated its contract with the city effective Oct. 8, 2018.
The city’s appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court was unable to be heard during the court’s 2018-2019 term due to scheduling conflicts. On Thursday the court announced the case will be held at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 19. That’s within the first two weeks of the court’s 2019-2020 calendar.
Appeals cases, including those before the supreme court, work differently from cases in district court. Attorneys for each side have 15 minutes to present their cases, with the appellant given five additional minutes to reply. There are no witnesses called to give evidence.
The case is being watched outside Ottumwa because of the implications it has for records held by governments in Iowa. The Iowa Freedom of Information Council has submitted an amicus brief in support of the records’ release.