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Huntington Beach Denies ‘Speed Trap’ Charge

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a legal brief filed Friday in U.S. District Court, Huntington Beach attorneys denied that the city has been operating a “speed trap” on Pacific Coast Highway.

City Atty. Gail Hutton said the city plans to ask a federal judge on April 30 to dismiss a suit that accuses the city of “extortion” because of the alleged speed trap.

Hutton’s brief was in response to a suit filed March 20 against the city by Ernest J. Franceschi Jr., a Seal Beach lawyer. Franceschi contends that Huntington Beach, for at least 10 years, has been operating a speed trap that has “extorted” millions of dollars from motorists trapped by radar or police helicopters on Pacific Coast Highway.

Franceschi’s class-action suit was filed on behalf of all motorists convicted of speeding on Pacific Coast Highway within city limits over the last 10 years. It seeks $60 million in damages.

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In her brief, Hutton said the city disputes Franceschi’s claim that three speeding citations he received in the last two years came from a speed trap. She said that two of his citations were issued on portions of Pacific Coast Highway where the speed limit is 55 m.p.h., pointing out that state law has said proof of speed traps is possible only when a speed limit is less than 55 m.p.h.

Franceschi was cited Aug. 1, 1988, for going 85 m.p.h. in a 55-m.p.h. zone and Jan. 8, 1989, for going 75 m.p.h. in a 55-m.p.h. zone, Hutton said. In the third citation, last May 3, Franceschi was cited for going 70 m.p.h. in a 50-m.p.h. zone, Hutton said.

“Even if the citations amount to speed-trap evidence, which defendants vigorously contest, it would not constitute extortion,” Hutton said in her brief.

Franceschi’s suit named as defendants the city, Mayor Thomas J. Mays, Police Chief Ron Lowenberg and the city’s Police Department and accused them of violating the federal anti-racketeering law. Hutton, however, argued that Franceschi is incorrect in his interpretation of that law.

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Hutton said previous court decisions have made it clear that the federal anti-racketeering law “is aimed at evils of criminal racketeering by organized crime and does not embrace ordinary violations.”

The city and other defendants in Franceschi’s suit will appear in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles at 10 a.m. April 30 to seek dismissal of the suit, Hutton said.


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