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Lawyer stops red-light camera fine

A non-practicing lawyer successfully challenged a $75 red-light camera fine in Baltimore because the citation failed to include the registration number of his vehicle as required by law.

Dean E. Merritt, a project manager for an electronic-filing company, said he looked through the relevant statute before going to court and realized the citation “didn’t have the information on it.”

“I think I checked it four or five times,” Merritt said. “It wasn’t on there.”

The law Merritt found was Section 21-202.1(e)(1) of the Maryland Transportation Article, which states that a red-light camera citation is required to contain “the registration number of the vehicle involved in the violation,” as well as the name and address of the registered owner; the date and time of the violation; its location; the vehicle tag; citation number; amount owed; and date due.

Merritt said the citation he received did not even include a box for the registration number, raising the question of whether any of the citations the city has distributed comply with the law.

Acting Baltimore Transportation Director Frank Murphy, whose department monitors the cameras, declined through a spokeswoman to comment.

The road to Merritt’s traffic-court victory began at 11:15 a.m. on May 23, when the city’s camera clicked a photo of his car as it went through a red light at the corner of Charles and Lake streets. Merritt, who was heading south on Charles, said he believes he stopped at the red light before turning right on to Lake.

Merritt said he was mad when he received the citation in the mail last June, a rage that drove him to look up the law online. Upon finding it, Merritt opted for a court date rather than pay the $75 fine to the Director of Finance, City of Baltimore.

On Monday, Maryland District Court Judge Joan B. Gordon agreed with Merritt’s statutory argument and found him not guilty. The judge, however, did admonish Merritt after finding for him on the legal technicality.

“Mr. Merritt, make sure you come to a complete stop next time,” Merritt recalled the judge saying.

Merritt said his success in the courtroom has not convinced him to quit his job and start representing people nabbed by a red-light camera.

“It’s $75,” Merritt said of the fine. “Nobody is going to hire an attorney.”

But, upon further reflection, Merritt joked that perhaps he could stand outside the courthouse and wait for business to come to him from the cited motorists.

“You could make $50 bucks a pop 50 times real quick,” he said.