Licensing Board Admits It Can’t Silence Red Light Camera Critic
More than three years after it targeted Mats Järlström for, essentially, doing math without a license, the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying has admitted they were wrong to do so.
As Reason has previously reported, Järlström landed in the board’s crosshairs in 2014, after his wife received a traffic ticket in Beaverton, Oregon. A trained electronics engineer, Järlström had used his knowledge to critique the timing of the red light camera that snagged his wife’s car.
Looking for feedback, Järlström sent a letter to the board in 2014 asking for the opportunity to present his research on how too-short yellow lights were making money for the state by putting the public’s safety at risk. “I would like to present these fact for your review and comment,” he wrote.
Instead of inviting him to present his ideas, the board threatened him. Citing state laws that make it illegal to practice engineering without a license, the board told Järlström that even calling himself an “electronics engineer” and using the phrase “I am an engineer” in his letter were enough to “create violations.” They also slapped him with a $500 fine.
This week, the state of Oregon conceded that the board had overstepped its authority. “We have admitted to violating Mr. Järlström’s rights,” Senior Assistant Attorney General Christina L. Beatty-Walters said in court Monday.
In court documents, the state admitted that the board’s attempt to silence Järlström “was not narrowly tailored to any compelling state interests.” The board has refunded the $500 fine, and it has been enjoined against targeting Järlström again “for his speech about traffic lights and his description of himself as an engineer except in the context of professional or commercial speech.”
But the fight might continue. Järlström’s lawsuit did not seek any monetary damages, but it asked the state court to issue an order telling the state state board to stop violating Oregonians’ free speech rights. The decision handed down this week applies only to Järlström.
That’s not enough, says Samuel Gedge, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, the libertarian law firm that represented Järlström in court. “The existence of these laws and the way they’ve been applied time and time again has violated free speech rights,” Gedge told The Oregonian.
Indeed, as crazy as Järlström’s story is, it’s not the first time the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying has been overly aggressive about enforcing its rules about who is and who is not an engineer.