The speeding cameras have gone dark in another Ohio community, the latest turned off by a string of court rulings against automated traffic enforcement.
A Butler County judge last week ordered the village of New Miami to hit stop, saying cameras were being used to violate motorists’ rights to due process.
The new order followed a strong rebuke of speeding cameras in a Cincinnati-area village by a judge in neighboring Hamilton County who called them a scam against motorists, and appellate court rulings against camera systems in Toledo and Cleveland.
The string of rulings against cameras is a reverse course from a few years ago when the Ohio Supreme Court upheld municipalities’ ability to use them for enforcement in a 2008 Akron case, and they had withstood other court challenges in state and federal courts.
“The trend, I think, is that you have judges looking more closely at procedures used by the municipalities that may be motivated more by raising revenue than for public safety,” said Josh Engel, an attorney for motorists in both the New Miami and the Elmwood Place lawsuits.
In those cases, the judges said separately that the administrative systems made it difficult for motorists to challenge the tickets. Butler County Common Pleas Judge Michael J. Sage expressed “great concerns about due process.”
Bruce D’Arcus, of Oxford, Ohio, was pleased to hear about the New Miami ruling. He said he recently received a mailed speeding citation, even though he knew he hadn’t been driving in New Miami at the time. He said his wife apparently was driving the car, but she didn’t remember going through the village just outside of this county seat the day of the citation.
“It feels a little strange,” he said of the automated enforcement system. He said the phone number on the citation was for an out-of-town, third-party service only interested in collecting his payment, not answering any questions.
Sage said he would be willing to reconsider his order if New Miami made changes to its system to give motorists a better way to appeal. Under the system he rejected as unfair, motorists could appeal in an administrative hearing set up by the village, which Sage said had a “vested interest” in the outcome for budget reasons. Taking an appeal to court would cost a $315 filing fee to contest the $95 ticket, Engel said in court.
Wil Weisenfelder, an attorney for the village, urged the judge to hold off on ruling until the Ohio Supreme Court hears the Toledo camera case. In that lawsuit, driver Bradley Walker didn’t argue directly against camera use, but said the system usurps municipal courts and lacks the required due process to allow motorists their day in court.
“Walker is going to decide who wins or loses this case,” Weisenfelder told Sage.
However, it could be months before the justices hear all arguments, and months more before they rule. Engel argued it would be unfair to continue to subject motorists to an unconstitutional system in the meantime, and Sage ordered an immediate halt.
Ohio cities have been lining up behind Toledo. A brief filed to the Supreme Court jointly by the Ohio Municipal League, Columbus and Dayton says the case could potentially affect “every Ohioan who drives or owns a vehicle.” Briefs also argue that Ohio law allows cities to handle a variety of matters administratively, and that forcing them into courts would be costly and clog the judiciary.
Andy Douglas, a Columbus attorney and former state Supreme Court justice representing Toledo, told The Associated Press that motorists still have the ability to take their cases to court for judicial review. He also said red-light cameras in Columbus and Toledo have made drivers more cautious and the roads safer.
“If it is unlawful for us to catch people running red lights, what about all these cameras they put up downtown on surveillance on all of us, for safety?” Douglas asked.
Douglas said that if the Supreme Court upholds cameras, then opponents would have depend upon current legislative efforts to ban or restrict traffic cameras statewide.
“Once you have it decided legally, the only avenue you have then is what’s going on in the General Assembly now, and that’s to make the cameras unlawful,” Douglas said.
Meanwhile, potential refunds are on hold.
In Hamilton County, Judge Robert Ruehlman has ordered refunds of fines and fees totaling some $1.8 million in Elmwood Place, but pending an appellate court ruling on class action status. Sage approved class action status in New Miami, but put off a ruling on refunds. It was estimated in court that more than $1 million has been collected from some 10,000 drivers, although some may have been ticketed multiple times. An appeal of that case is also likely.