9 Investigates: Winter Park pushing hard to prosecute red-light violators

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WINTER PARK, Fla. - By now, central Florida drivers know red-light cameras are watching at dozens of intersections across our area.  But if you fight one of the tickets, you may find the traditionally low-key traffic court has evolved dramatically.

“This is not a simple traffic violation. This has gone way beyond that,” said local courier Bill Christiansen.

Christiansen saw the change first-hand when he opened a heavy legal packet from an Orlando lawfirm that is prosecuting his case for the City of Winter Park.  Christiansen decided to fight the violation out of principle but also because the red-light camera warning sign at the intersection of Lakemont and Aloma avenues was obstructed at the time by tree limbs.

In years past, regular citizens who contested such a ticket in court would face little more than a traffic cop testifying.  But since 2011, in Winter Park, those drivers have to make their case against one of the well-trained attorneys from Grown, Garganese, Weiss and D’Agresta.  It’s a startling change for Christiansen, who’s contested other tickets before.

“I've never, ever had to face an entire law firm for a traffic violation,” he said.  “I went, what kind of money are we talking here?  I mean, it was incredible.”

The City of Winter Park tells 9 Investigates it has paid the firm $25,000 for all of the city’s legal services. 

Red-light camera cases are a small portion of that total, according to officials.  For now, the City of Orlando is still just using traffic hearing officers while Orange County uses internal legal staff.

As WFTV has reported, 20,000 Floridians have contested their $158 red-light violations, and 70 percent won.

Christiansen believes Winter Park’s legal muscle simply makes more of its tickets stick.  His case is just beginning.

Winter Park told WFTV it switched from simply using traffic officers to using the lawfirm after a decision by a local judge.  That ruling indicated that officers could not make the in-court legal arguments needed in such a case.