A camera attached to a school bus in a company...

A camera attached to a school bus in a company yard in Medford in 2021. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

A Suffolk County driver clinched a small victory when a state appeals court last month tossed his $250 automated school bus stop ticket due to insufficient evidence. 

The reversal is not the school bus safety program's only legal challenge. A Nassau resident has filed a class-action lawsuit against Hempstead with similar arguments used in the one against Suffolk's program, while also demanding a refund for those ticketed in the town.

West Hempstead resident Sergey Kadinsky paid his fine after getting ticketed this past summer, but in a class-action lawsuit filed in State Supreme Court in Nassau late last month, he alleged the bus stop-arm violations issued in Hempstead were unlawful applications of state law and the town “has been unjustly enriched by collecting fines.”

Kadinksy is asking for everyone who was ticketed in Hempstead to receive a refund and that the program be modified.

“The amount that's charged … is extravagant. And I'm not sure if it serves as much as a deterrent or it's just a cash grab or a revenue generator,” Kadinsky told Newsday in an interview with his lawyer, Joseph Aron.

The lawsuit alleges that the evidence package, including the video recordings, do not prove the vehicle is a school bus or show it was stopped to discharge or pick up passengers, both elements required by state law. It claims the recordings do not display all the proper markings, signage and equipment on the bus, including the stop signs and accompanying lights.

“I felt that if the government is going to take this much money from me, let them bring more evidence than just a video and a photo,” Kadinsky said.

Hempstead Town spokesman Casey Sammon said the town does not comment on pending litigation. 

A 2019 law allows municipalities to opt into the automated program, where cameras are aimed at catching drivers who pass school buses stopped to let out or pick up passengers.

No points are added to a vehicle owner’s driver’s license but fines start at $250 for a first violation and $300 for a second violation in an 18-month period.

Suffolk was the first county in the state to roll out the program, in 2021, after forging a contract with BusPatrol, a national company that supplies and installs the safety technology.

The program brought in close to $25 million in 2022, the first full year of service.

In Nassau, there is no countywide effort. Instead, County Executive Bruce Blakeman left the decision to the county's three towns, with Hempstead partnering with BusPatrol and launching the cameras in 2022. Hempstead receives 55% of the revenue from tickets, and BusPatrol receives 45%. In Suffolk, the county receives 55% of the ticket revenue with BusPatrol collecting 45%.

Since December 2022, there have been 131,878 notices issued in Hempstead, according to Sammon.  

Recently, Suffolk resident Alfred Croce III challenged his ticket using similar arguments and won in a case with potential broader implications for the lower courts.

Croce first tried to have his ticket dismissed at the Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violation Agency in September 2022 — and lost. But he didn’t stop there. In a move that law experts said is uncommon for a traffic ticket, due to costly legal expenses, Croce took his fight to the Appellate Term of the Supreme Court for the 9th and 10th judicial districts.

Croce, an attorney who also works for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office but represented himself, declined to discuss the case.

The grounds of his appeal were similar to arguments made in Kadinsky's lawsuit. 

Court papers show Croce claimed the videos used as evidence failed to prove the vehicle was a bus and do not show it was stopped to discharge or pick up passengers. He said the video did not capture the vehicle’s bus markings, rear signage or warning lights, and did not contain any recordings of anyone getting on or off the bus, according to court documents.

Croce, in court filings stated, “the People bear the burden to provide legally valid and sufficient evidence to prove each element” of the law.

The three-judge panel sided with Croce, finding that the county presented no witnesses to establish that the bus was properly marked and equipped with colored flashing signal lamps and that the video recording was “insufficient to establish that the bus was a school bus within the meaning of the statute,” the unanimous decision by Presiding Justice Jerry Garguilo, Associate Justice Elizabeth H. Emerson and Associate Justice Timothy S. Driscoll on Nov. 30 stated.

Municipal law expert Paul Sabatino, former counsel to the Suffolk County Legislature, said the appellate term decision could pave the way for other such challenges in court, and the order is binding for similar cases brought forward in the lower court system on Long Island. He said it could even be cited across the state in similar cases.

Sabatino believes Suffolk will not be able to ignore the decision and will have to act because of the thousands of tickets at stake.

“They’re going to have to do something,” he said. “There is too much money on the table. One option is to appeal it to the appellate division, the next option is to rewrite the statute going forward, the third option is to put something in place in case there is a class-action lawsuit.”

Sabatino said he was perplexed by the decision to dismiss the ticket, adding that while the issue could be remedied, it would be labor intensive.

Marykate Guilfoyle, a spokeswoman for Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone, said the decision will not impact past or future stop-arm camera tickets and is limited to the specific evidence presented in this case.

“Most of all, it will not affect the ability of the County nor our local partners to hold drivers accountable for illegally passing a school bus and endangering the life of a child,” she said in a statement. 

She also acknowledged that the county will consider making changes.

“As is our practice after every ruling, we are reviewing the case and will make any appropriate changes needed to ensure the effectiveness of our safety program,” she added. 

A Suffolk County driver clinched a small victory when a state appeals court last month tossed his $250 automated school bus stop ticket due to insufficient evidence. 

The reversal is not the school bus safety program's only legal challenge. A Nassau resident has filed a class-action lawsuit against Hempstead with similar arguments used in the one against Suffolk's program, while also demanding a refund for those ticketed in the town.

West Hempstead resident Sergey Kadinsky paid his fine after getting ticketed this past summer, but in a class-action lawsuit filed in State Supreme Court in Nassau late last month, he alleged the bus stop-arm violations issued in Hempstead were unlawful applications of state law and the town “has been unjustly enriched by collecting fines.”

Kadinksy is asking for everyone who was ticketed in Hempstead to receive a refund and that the program be modified.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The school bus camera safety program is being met with some legal challenges. 
  • A Suffolk County driver's $250 automated school bus ticket was dismissed in state appellate court. 
  • Now, the Town of Hempstead has to face a Nassau County resident's class-action lawsuit demanding all tickets in the town be refunded. 

“The amount that's charged … is extravagant. And I'm not sure if it serves as much as a deterrent or it's just a cash grab or a revenue generator,” Kadinsky told Newsday in an interview with his lawyer, Joseph Aron.

The lawsuit alleges that the evidence package, including the video recordings, do not prove the vehicle is a school bus or show it was stopped to discharge or pick up passengers, both elements required by state law. It claims the recordings do not display all the proper markings, signage and equipment on the bus, including the stop signs and accompanying lights.

“I felt that if the government is going to take this much money from me, let them bring more evidence than just a video and a photo,” Kadinsky said.

Hempstead Town spokesman Casey Sammon said the town does not comment on pending litigation. 

A 2019 law allows municipalities to opt into the automated program, where cameras are aimed at catching drivers who pass school buses stopped to let out or pick up passengers.

No points are added to a vehicle owner’s driver’s license but fines start at $250 for a first violation and $300 for a second violation in an 18-month period.

Suffolk was the first county in the state to roll out the program, in 2021, after forging a contract with BusPatrol, a national company that supplies and installs the safety technology.

The program brought in close to $25 million in 2022, the first full year of service.

In Nassau, there is no countywide effort. Instead, County Executive Bruce Blakeman left the decision to the county's three towns, with Hempstead partnering with BusPatrol and launching the cameras in 2022. Hempstead receives 55% of the revenue from tickets, and BusPatrol receives 45%. In Suffolk, the county receives 55% of the ticket revenue with BusPatrol collecting 45%.

Since December 2022, there have been 131,878 notices issued in Hempstead, according to Sammon.  

Recently, Suffolk resident Alfred Croce III challenged his ticket using similar arguments and won in a case with potential broader implications for the lower courts.

Croce first tried to have his ticket dismissed at the Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violation Agency in September 2022 — and lost. But he didn’t stop there. In a move that law experts said is uncommon for a traffic ticket, due to costly legal expenses, Croce took his fight to the Appellate Term of the Supreme Court for the 9th and 10th judicial districts.

Croce, an attorney who also works for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office but represented himself, declined to discuss the case.

The grounds of his appeal were similar to arguments made in Kadinsky's lawsuit. 

Court papers show Croce claimed the videos used as evidence failed to prove the vehicle was a bus and do not show it was stopped to discharge or pick up passengers. He said the video did not capture the vehicle’s bus markings, rear signage or warning lights, and did not contain any recordings of anyone getting on or off the bus, according to court documents.

Croce, in court filings stated, “the People bear the burden to provide legally valid and sufficient evidence to prove each element” of the law.

The three-judge panel sided with Croce, finding that the county presented no witnesses to establish that the bus was properly marked and equipped with colored flashing signal lamps and that the video recording was “insufficient to establish that the bus was a school bus within the meaning of the statute,” the unanimous decision by Presiding Justice Jerry Garguilo, Associate Justice Elizabeth H. Emerson and Associate Justice Timothy S. Driscoll on Nov. 30 stated.

Thousands of tickets at stake 

Municipal law expert Paul Sabatino, former counsel to the Suffolk County Legislature, said the appellate term decision could pave the way for other such challenges in court, and the order is binding for similar cases brought forward in the lower court system on Long Island. He said it could even be cited across the state in similar cases.

Sabatino believes Suffolk will not be able to ignore the decision and will have to act because of the thousands of tickets at stake.

“They’re going to have to do something,” he said. “There is too much money on the table. One option is to appeal it to the appellate division, the next option is to rewrite the statute going forward, the third option is to put something in place in case there is a class-action lawsuit.”

Sabatino said he was perplexed by the decision to dismiss the ticket, adding that while the issue could be remedied, it would be labor intensive.

Marykate Guilfoyle, a spokeswoman for Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone, said the decision will not impact past or future stop-arm camera tickets and is limited to the specific evidence presented in this case.

“Most of all, it will not affect the ability of the County nor our local partners to hold drivers accountable for illegally passing a school bus and endangering the life of a child,” she said in a statement. 

She also acknowledged that the county will consider making changes.

“As is our practice after every ruling, we are reviewing the case and will make any appropriate changes needed to ensure the effectiveness of our safety program,” she added. 

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