Collier attorney who received red light ticket vows to continue to fight it in court

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— Sebouh Gourjian of Naples was ticketed after a traffic camera in August caught his silver Honda turning right at a red light without stopping.

But six months later, the 40-year-old criminal defense attorney still refuses to pay the $125 ticket. He contends Collier County’s ordinance is preempted by state law.

In November, he lost an appeal before a code enforcement special magistrate, who ordered him to pay the ticket and $50 more in costs. The next month, he plunked down $400 to file an administrative appeal in Collier Circuit Court. And on Thursday, he argued his case.

“I’m asking the court not to have the ordinance enforced,” Gourjian told Collier Circuit Judge Cynthia Pivacek at a brief hearing. “I think it would be appropriate to stay.”

“It’s a problem with many Collier citizens,” Gourjian said of motorists getting ticketed for turning right at red lights without coming to a full stop. “We believe it’s unconstitutional. Clearly, on its face, it’s preempted by state statute.”

But Pivacek denied Gourjian’s motion, which asked her to stay the enforcement of the ordinance for all motorists until the Legislature votes on Senate Bill 294.

“I don’t think it’s properly before the court,” Pivacek explained.

To do what he wanted, she said, he’d have plead his case and prove it. Pivacek denied his motion without prejudice, allowing him to refile his administrative appeal — this time by seeking injunctive relief.

Gourjian isn’t accustomed to arguing civil cases, but said he has no problem refiling the appeal against county commissioners.

“I wanted to stay the ordinance so people don’t get cited,” Gourjian said after the hearing. “I will fight. ... I won’t pay the ticket.”

A day earlier, Pivacek granted a motion by attorney Steven Williams, who represents Collier County. He’d asked for an extension of time to file an answer to Gourjian’s appeal, arguing that Senate Bill 294 will result in a new law.

“It’s all moot if it passes,” Williams said Thursday, referring to Gourjian’s appeal. “From everything that we have heard, it will pass.”

And if it does, that means Collier County’s tickets, which were reduced to $62.50 after a public outcry, will cost $155. “There’s nothing the county can do about it,” Williams said of the increase.

“We’ll see what the Legislature does. If it drops it, we’ll be back,” Williams said of Gourjian’s case.

Williams said 83 percent of Collier’s red-light tickets involve drivers turning on red without stopping. After many motorists complained, the county added signs at red lights, telling motorists the law requires them to come to a full stop before turning.

Senate Bill 294, introduced in October, has a matching House bill, 325, filed a month later. The bills before the state Legislature would bring consistency to the varied local red-light camera programs operating in Florida cities and counties. So far, 23 municipalities statewide have some sort of a red-light camera law.

This month, Lee County commissioners refused to use cameras to catch red-light runners, citing concern over lawsuits filed in 13 counties, including Collier, that challenge ticketing drivers through the use of unmanned cameras.

The bills would require governments to enact an ordinance to use a traffic infraction detector to identify a vehicle that fails to stop at a steady red light. They also would provide that the registered owner of the motor vehicle is responsible for paying the fine.

The $155 fine would give $75 to municipalities, $55 to the state general fund, and $25 to the Health Administration Trust Fund, with much of that going to trauma centers and emergency rooms.

Gourjian’s appeal argued that the cameras operated by American Traffic Solutions, which has the contract in Collier County, don’t meet requirements set by the Florida Department of Transportation, as state law mandates.

“Because the cameras are not in compliance with Florida statutes, the county went beyond its empowered police powers in issuing code violations,” Gourjian wrote in a 25-page brief.

He contended Collier County Code Enforcement Special Magistrate Brenda Garretson, who held a hearing on On Nov. 17, allowed a document to be entered as evidence although it didn’t meet the requirements of the law. That document said the vehicle belonged to him.

He also maintained that the Board of Commissioners of Collier County enacted ordinance 08-22, the red-light camera law, in bad faith, so they can’t argue immunity in his lawsuit and are responsible for his fees and costs in fighting his ticket.

He noted that Florida Statute 316.002’s intent was to make uniform traffic laws to apply throughout the state and its counties and for uniform traffic ordinances to apply in all municipalities.

Gourjian also argued the cameras are not approved by the state Department of Transportation, as the law requires, so the videotapes and cameras shouldn’t be allowed as evidence.

He also noted that the state Attorney General issued an opinion five years ago that bars enforcement of tickets involving unmanned red-light cameras and called county commissioners deceitful because they told citizens the opinion, which answered a question by the Pembroke Pines city attorney, allowed such enforcement. It was the second such opinion issued by a Florida attorney general.

“If exhibit A had not been admitted,” Gourjian’s brief said of the video showing his car, “then (commissioners) would have no evidence tying the vehicle in question to Sebouh Gourjian. ... The ticket issued to Sebouh Gourjian should be reversed because of improper evidence.”

The pending class-action lawsuit in Collier Circuit Court, which is among 13 filed across the state, cites that opinion, 2005-41, and calls the county’s ordinance unfair and illegal. The lawsuit was filed in October by West Palm Beach attorney Jason Weisser on behalf of two drivers ticketed in Collier County, Bennett Cinquigrana and Rita C. Siegel.

It hasn’t yet been certified as a class-action lawsuit, which would allow other ticketed drivers to benefit from any compensation or damages the plaintiffs win.

“In most jurisdictions, these companies literally issue the tickets and collect the fines,” says the lawsuit against Collier County, American Traffic Solutions LLC and ATS American Traffic Solutions Inc. “These practices have resulted in the defendants’ unjust enrichment, which is due to conversion of property belonging to plaintiffs and the deprivation of the plaintiff’s state, constitutional and statutory rights.”

© 2010 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 58

Solitary1 writes:

When I read the headline I thought that the CCSO has accidentally targeted a 'friend' of the system but after reading more into it I see that this guy is no friend of the CCSO, he's a criminal defense attorney.

Good luck buddy!

MacGumbo writes:

What a crybaby! Tying up the system using up public money. What a dork!

MARJE writes:

I do not understand the law, are people not allowed to turn at all when the light is red, or does it mean you have to come to a complete stop on red and then turn if it is clear?

Native writes:

Red means stop.

norske writes:

Doesn't this guy have any legal cases to work on besides this? I don't get it, stop on red and if you are cited for not doing so, pay the ticket! I wouldn't hire this attorney.

Hlmorgan writes:

Take the freaking ticket and just pay it...I got a citation for 200 dollars and 4 points off my license for turning right on red, plus I got harassed by the cops who acted like I was retarded. I just sucked it up and paid the ticket, and then took the drivers class and got the points removed. If I got a ticket for doing it, everyone should get one. Like Native said, red means stop

jacktanner writes:

Education if more effective that force.

"Don’t Mess with Texas" education campaign
is credited with reducing litter on Texas highways 72%

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don%27t_...

YELLOW LIGHT TIMES
http://www.thenewspaper.com/rlc/repor...

It has been repeatedly proven that with simple engineering of the traffic lights and at certain intersections we can reduce injury accidents as much as 80%.

http://www.motorists.org/blog/6-citie...

University of South Florida
found the cameras INCREASE crashes and costs.

http://www2.tbo.com/content/2008/mar/...

Temple Terrace FL
http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/29/2...

Las Cruces NM
http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/30/3...

native1457 writes:

Well, if you don't have to stop when turning right on red, then I don't want to wait for the light to turn green when I am going straight. If there are no cars coming, I should be able to go.

phb1 writes:

Gourjian is a hero! He is fighting on our behalf for fair and honest interpretation of the law and you bozos above are trashing him? The Traffic cameras are a little too Orwellian for me. And, knock on wood, no I have not received a ticket!

Naplestango writes:

Jimeny Crickets!!
Business must be so slow if lawyers are fighting their own $125.00 tickets!!!
My main attorney charges me $350/hr...Just the travel time to the courthouse would cost him more than that.

granitestater writes:

MARJE, the law is simple. Unless prohibited by a sign at the intersection, a motorist is permitted to turn right on a red light AFTER coming to a FULL STOP and insuring that the way is clear to make the turn safely.

prs24 writes:

in response to MARJE:

I do not understand the law, are people not allowed to turn at all when the light is red, or does it mean you have to come to a complete stop on red and then turn if it is clear?

Gee lady,maybe you need to find that out! Ya think? Dumb post.

prs24 writes:

in response to phb1:

Gourjian is a hero! He is fighting on our behalf for fair and honest interpretation of the law and you bozos above are trashing him? The Traffic cameras are a little too Orwellian for me. And, knock on wood, no I have not received a ticket!

As others have said, Red means stop. What part of that don't you get?

NoBS writes:

You go Sebouh. These cameras are ONLY about the money for Collier County. When the say they are not and about safety, it is the County lying to us. If that were the case they would send a warning first.

Yes, you should reasonable stop, but the Big Brother cameras and passing a law that presumes you guilty and requires you to prove your innocence is illegal and unconstitutional and not the way to do it. The end is not justified by the means.

popeye63 writes:

Pull up to make a right. NO cars are coming. Do as big brother says. Wait a few seconds and now you can sit and wait an additional three minutes while all the cars pass by. I dont care to spend an eighth of my life waiting at traffic lights in Naples. You people that love to sit and wait are probably the same ones driving 60 in the left lane and refuse to yield on the interstate.

NaplesSparky writes:

This story is poorly written, but it reads like Shakespeare compared to the comments.
popeye...an 8th of your life? 3 hours a day? That's a heck of a commute.

Quief, I'm not sure what good you think wasting your own time does? If you want to "prove a point", follow the law and drive safely. You'll still be depriving the county of their money, AND you won't be aggravating your fellow man.

SWFLUSMC writes:

If the law states "come to a complete stop before turning" what is it you people do not understand? Nobody will be harmed in waiting three seconds. Sad that this is news. More of a distraction from important things, maybe by design...

wes writes:

This lawyer is just what we need.
So he's not doing it for the cash and that makes him a fool? Nice values there.

It's obvious from the article he's simply doing what we often wish we could if we were attorneys. Bravo. The crux of the issue has nothing to do with stopping at signs and everything to do with police power.

Using cameras to charge people with crimes is serious business and Texas Companies and County Commissioners aren't qualified as even honest and legal as far as I'm concerned.
I hate to imagine where this is going to end up listening to the majority of the arguments.

Good luck Mr. Gourjian and it's a sad example of the phoniness of many of the pro-County backers who beat the anti-government intrusion drum daily.

GANAK1 writes:

Just continue to have "big brother" look over your shoulder. Let's just keep on giving up more and more of our freedoms. What's next, no smoking in your cars, in your homes, can't wash your car or take a shower when you want to.
Each time you LET the government get away with things like this and these red light camera's, takes those responsibilities from REAL law enforement people and gives them to money hungry private companies, you're asking for trouble. It sounds just like more 'SOCIALISM' to me. Can't do this, or that, other people watching your every move, where are our freedoms going?
Let's stop this now, right now!!! Give them nothing to build on, so we can all live a normal life, without more and more government taking over out lives.
If they want to stop these red light issues, get the police to do their jobs, not some "yahoo's" in Arizona watching us, judging us, who the hell are they?
Keep on fighting Mr. Gourjian, and good luck.

phb1 writes:

in response to prs24:

As others have said, Red means stop. What part of that don't you get?

What part of illegal cameras and hidden revenue generation don't you get? As of yet this has no direct impact on me (no ticket, yet), but that does not mean I should stand by quietly until it does and bury my head in the sand as prs24 and others are doing in this case.

NaplesSparky writes:

Drop the slippery slope argument, it's never been a good one, it's not going to start now. Drop the invasion of privacy argument, there is no expectation of privacy on PUBLIC streets. Drop the argument that it generates revenue. I'd rather have revenue generated by scofflaws and poor drivers than by raising MY taxes. Do all that,and there isn't much of an argument left.

1quik91 writes:

Get the law changed to yield on red, a stop is a stop whether it's 1/2 second or half an hour. What gets me is the left turn vehicles that the cameras don't follow. I wait at green lights and watch 6 or 7 cars still going through the intersection.

usertom166 writes:

Yes, Red means stop. Yes, people who roll through right turns are careless ,reckless ,dangerous idiots who deserve a ticket ,but this system of subverting the courts and our constitutional right to an attorney and a jury is wrong. Wake up America, the government is becoming your babysitter! Is this the country you want to live in?

MBSports writes:

The camera's are just wrong. You want to ticket people, position officers at the intersection, believe me, they're not busy.

There is almost always a shopping center at these intersections. Even though it takes a little more time, I usually drive through them to avoid the camera. That way I don't feel dirty and like I need to take a shower when I reach my destination.

dixiedrifter writes:

I got one of these tix at 951 and gg pky,where you have to cross the stop line to assess oncoming traffic-still had to pay.No doubt these are revenue generators,but if they had ccso on site,just as much revenue would be generated by arresting all the illegals and other knuckleheads who are driving with invalid licenses or no license at all.Two birds with one stone.Naplessparky is correct-this article is poorly written,but nosurprise there.My high school newspaper was written on a higher level than this rag-that's why I stopped my subscription 10 years ago.

Cynical1 writes:

Moron. Typical lawyer thinks laws don't apply to him. Red light means stop, not pause.

Idiot probably thinks it's a violation of the constitution to have to stop on red. I'm sure the constitution has something in it about traffic lights, but not this.

phb1 writes:

in response to NaplesSparky:

Drop the slippery slope argument, it's never been a good one, it's not going to start now. Drop the invasion of privacy argument, there is no expectation of privacy on PUBLIC streets. Drop the argument that it generates revenue. I'd rather have revenue generated by scofflaws and poor drivers than by raising MY taxes. Do all that,and there isn't much of an argument left.

The argument will quickly be dropped when the law is on the book to allow remote law enforcement. Until then, the argument stands and discussing it publicly is what makes this country great. To roll over and "just-take-it" and assume this is a legal process is is just lazy. Should I stop at a red-light before turning right, absolutely if that is the law in Florida. NO ONE is arguing that point.

beetlejuice writes:

in response to MacGumbo:

What a crybaby! Tying up the system using up public money. What a dork!

He's fighting EVERYONE's FIGHT in Collier County. People aren't pleased about light cams. Even going to church has a new red light cam twist on it. Two major red light cams exist near Collier County's largest congregations & churches.
CO ink eeee dink?
NO!
Any attorney who fights red light cams should be commended!!!

MacGumbo writes:

phb1 writes: What part of illegal cameras and hidden revenue generation don't you get?

How are they illegal? Who cares if they generate revenue from idiots who believe they are above the law.

Don't run red lights and you won't get fined, don't you get it?

NaplesSparky writes: Drop the slippery slope argument,... there isn't much of an argument left.

EXACTLY! To ALL of it!

beetlejuice writes: He's fighting EVERYONE's FIGHT in Collier County. People aren't pleased about light cams.

Not everyone and not all the people!

northnaples61 writes:

Just to vent, how about the inconsiderate ... who are going straight, yet park their car in the right lane while several cars behing want to turn right, but can't because the jerk in front of them is tying up the lane.

Unbiased_comment writes:

As I've mentioned previously, this program of red light camera's sponsored by local municipalities and American Traffic Solutions Inc., is an illegal tax. As the attorney says, it preempts existing state law. So we're clear, I'm not in favor of people running red lights, nor am I "whining" about this program aimed at generating revenue for the county first and public safety second. There are two reasons in my opinion that we shouldn't have these camera's. By allowing local officials to usurp state statutes we open ourselves up to a form of dictatorship. Secondly and probably the most important reason is economic. We are having to pay a portion of our hard earned dollars not to Florida related programs as the statute provides for red light running, but to an external company based in Arizona. Essentially we are giving money away that's needed to help run our local economy. And for what? 80% of it to stop people rolling through a right turn on red. Does anyone remember economics class? Here's an interesting link for your reading pleasure. Iowa District Court Order making city ordinance authorizing cameral an illegal tax.
http://www.thenewspaper.com/rlc/docs/...

scubatenor writes:

in response to Unbiased_comment:

As I've mentioned previously, this program of red light camera's sponsored by local municipalities and American Traffic Solutions Inc., is an illegal tax. As the attorney says, it preempts existing state law. So we're clear, I'm not in favor of people running red lights, nor am I "whining" about this program aimed at generating revenue for the county first and public safety second. There are two reasons in my opinion that we shouldn't have these camera's. By allowing local officials to usurp state statutes we open ourselves up to a form of dictatorship. Secondly and probably the most important reason is economic. We are having to pay a portion of our hard earned dollars not to Florida related programs as the statute provides for red light running, but to an external company based in Arizona. Essentially we are giving money away that's needed to help run our local economy. And for what? 80% of it to stop people rolling through a right turn on red. Does anyone remember economics class? Here's an interesting link for your reading pleasure. Iowa District Court Order making city ordinance authorizing cameral an illegal tax.
http://www.thenewspaper.com/rlc/docs/...

Very well presented!

As a point, I slow down and stop for all "yellow lights" and I can't tell you how many times I've almost been rear-ended because people don't want to stop for that red light. It's getting very scary out there! People need to get off their cell phones and not be in such a hurry! In the end, it's better for your health and well-being.

phb1 writes:

in response to Unbiased_comment:

As I've mentioned previously, this program of red light camera's sponsored by local municipalities and American Traffic Solutions Inc., is an illegal tax. As the attorney says, it preempts existing state law. So we're clear, I'm not in favor of people running red lights, nor am I "whining" about this program aimed at generating revenue for the county first and public safety second. There are two reasons in my opinion that we shouldn't have these camera's. By allowing local officials to usurp state statutes we open ourselves up to a form of dictatorship. Secondly and probably the most important reason is economic. We are having to pay a portion of our hard earned dollars not to Florida related programs as the statute provides for red light running, but to an external company based in Arizona. Essentially we are giving money away that's needed to help run our local economy. And for what? 80% of it to stop people rolling through a right turn on red. Does anyone remember economics class? Here's an interesting link for your reading pleasure. Iowa District Court Order making city ordinance authorizing cameral an illegal tax.
http://www.thenewspaper.com/rlc/docs/...

@macgumbo - Please read Unbiased_comment before you respond again and remove all doubt.

NeezDutz writes:

I'm confused, he got caught on camera breaking the law, when everyone knew they were there. (There are flashing signs before you come up to most intersections)
He is saying he can break the law that was put into the books, if he thinks it is unconstitutional? Hmm
there are a lot of laws i don't agree with but i don't break them. if i get caught doing so, them punish me.
i dont see what the problem is here.
Also, i am sure a portion of the tickets pay for the "Video reviewers"

TransplantedCracker writes:

Don't do the crime if you can't pay the fine!!! Man, you would think that people have better things to do than to complain about being caught breaking the law. Maybe the law should be changed to no right on red. Then the cameras would be catching red light runners.

freedomsailor writes:

I think that Sebouh Gourjian is a sleeze-bag who thinks that he is above the law and can turn right on red WITHOUT stopping. I wonder if he thinks that running a red light WITHOUT stopping is OK also?

tee writes:

there are 2 separate issues here:

there are the people who are terrified of "big brother", baseless or otherwise, and that's fine. they believe these red light cameras are "just the beginning", hence the slippery slope argument. they're entitled to their opinion, and i while i do not agree with it, i can respect and understand their position.

then there are the people that don't like the law that says they have to stop before turning right on red. that's fine, but don't blame the cameras, blame the LAW. lots of people have been stopped for the same infraction by flesh and blood cops, and have been just as outraged. if you want to be able to yield on red legally, then the camera is not the problem.

d1120 writes:

This is one attorney who has too much idle time on his hands. Someone get him some business.

adunafraid writes:

I don't understand people defending these cameras. They are there for one reason only to generate revenue. Not making a complete stop before turning right on red is not a major safety issue. Making a left turn when the turning arrow has turned red and there is now traffic proceeding straight is a safety issue. Yet the cameras are not focused on the left turn lanes.

MacGumbo writes:

phb1 writes: before you respond again and remove all doubt.

You have removed "all doubt" a long time ago.

Especially your inability to form your own defense in a debate.

MacGumbo writes:

scubatenor writes: By allowing local officials to usurp state statutes

The US Constitution guarantees state's rights in usurping certain federal ones. Much larger than you have pointed out but similar.

How do you feel about that?

Hlmorgan writes:

in response to phb1:

Gourjian is a hero! He is fighting on our behalf for fair and honest interpretation of the law and you bozos above are trashing him? The Traffic cameras are a little too Orwellian for me. And, knock on wood, no I have not received a ticket!

Well we are trashing him because it is a 125.00 dollar ticket...just pay it...he probably makes more than 100k a year I'm sure he has the money. I will consider him a hero when he pays for the 200 dollar ticket I had to pay for when I turned right on red...at 1 am in the morning when no one was around..except for 2 cops apparently

phb1 writes:

@Macgumbo - You have indeed removed all doubt about your ability to reason with any effectiveness. You have no retort to the valid points well crafted by Unbiased, so you resort to attacking me.

@hlmorgan - look past the cost of a single ticket my friend. In this case it is not about the money, it is indeed the underlying principle of the issue. The cameras have been setup to usurp state law in order to generate revenue. I am in favor of traffic law enforcement, and creating funds for the city in a way that encourages safety. However, this practice is not following state law and I applaud Gourjian for standing up and saying "no." Looking at the big picture here, not the singular event.

Jenkins10 writes:

Can someone produce this "attorney's" law school transcripts? Not a very bright guy. Can someone gets this guy a girlfriend so he has something better to do with his time.

ISEETHRUYOU writes:

A loser for an attorney I hope he gets a lot of defense cases as this is what he actually wants. He is so dumb he can't see no matter what he will lose against the man. Why because the man uses his and your money do defend himself. Yup folks every time some idiot thinks he will make a name for him/herself the tax payers foot the bill. The only place you will win is in the ballot box. But what politicians count on is your lack of memory come election time. Yup you keep voting them in and they keep putting it to you.

MacGumbo writes:

phb1 writes: so you resort to attacking me

Who is attacking who? I quote from your prior message... "before you respond again and remove all doubt"

What pray tell did you mean from that remark? I'm super intelligent? I think not, you were calling me s----- and responding would prove it. I guess your misunderstanding of English removes my doubt about you!

You may call me biased and if requiring personal responsibility is biased then I guess I am.

ottoman writes:

I think having to full stop on right turns is useless. Most of the lines are not close enough to the intersection to see the traffic. So you need to do full stop at the line just to SATISFY the camera. Then you need to slow down again to control the traffic when you get closer to the intersection. I don't think that this is an efficient way ..Instead of full stop it should be just a yield ..

phb1 writes:

in response to MacGumbo:

What a crybaby! Tying up the system using up public money. What a dork!

@macgumbo - Still no response to Unbiased's comments? Still no intelligent argument to the greater issue in this situation. In fact all it seems you want to do is trash anyone who disagrees with your point of view without consideration to all sides of the issue. To knee jerk respond and attack someone is clearly a sign of lowered ability to reason. Good luck and good day.

flanative writes:

in response to Hlmorgan:

Take the freaking ticket and just pay it...I got a citation for 200 dollars and 4 points off my license for turning right on red, plus I got harassed by the cops who acted like I was retarded. I just sucked it up and paid the ticket, and then took the drivers class and got the points removed. If I got a ticket for doing it, everyone should get one. Like Native said, red means stop

But you got an actual ticket issued on the scene by actual deputies who witnessed your traffic offense. These "tickets" they are talking about are issued based on someone in Arizona viewing footage to decide if an offense occurred, then forwarding the video to the sheriffs (who we pay) to review and decide whether to issue a code enforcement violation.
You could have contested your ticket and actually faced your accusers in court, as provided for in consitutional law. Anyone who gets one of these "tickets" can't do that, as their accusers are an inanimate object, and an anonymous person in Arizona. On the plus side, it's not actually a traffic offense, so no points, but it still doesn't allow for them to prove it was you driving, or to let you face your accusers.

flanative writes:

I suggest we need a citizen's revolt. If everyone who is upset by this camera system being used as a revenue grab would contact their state legislator, we might change their minds. At the moment, the only comments we are hearing from Collier and other governments who want to use cameras is that this is a done deal. Maybe if everyone threatens to throw the bums out, they might rethink their position on this propsed statute.

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