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Stop on red: Ohio courts rule against speed, traffic cameras

By   /   January 24, 2014  /   No Comments

By Maggie Thurber | for Ohio Watchdog

UNCONSTITUTIONAL: A second Ohio court has ruled red light cameras unconstitutional and a third one has ordered a city to repay $1.76 million in fines.

Ohio cities make millions on red light and speed cameras, but a recent court ruling should give them pause.

Cameras in Elmwood Place, Ohio, were declared a “scam,” and in March a judge ruled the city had to shut them down. The city defied the order, which led Hamilton County Judge Robert Ruehlman to declare the city in contempt. He then ordered the Hamilton County Sheriff to seize the equipment.

Thursday, Ruehlman reiterated the camera system violated Ohio’s constitution and rules on judicial process and public notice. He ordered the city to refund the $1.76 million collected in fines from the cameras — and to pay attorneys’ fees — because the city “acted in bad faith in implementing the ordinance.”

A class action status is requested, and Ruehlman said he would wait until an appeal on that request is resolved before finalizing his order.

The Eighth District Court of Appeals ruled unanimously Thursday that Cleveland’s traffic camera system was unconstitutional.

In a ruling that echoes the decision of the Sixth District Court of Appeals over a Toledo camera ticket, the three-judge panel held that tickets for traffic violations are under the sole jurisdiction of the municipal court.

Both Toledo and Cleveland established a hearing officer to handle appeals of the tickets. Cleveland classified the violations as “parking infractions,” which, under Ohio law, are not required to be heard in municipal court.

The Eighth District’s ruling said “the power to adjudicate civil violations of moving traffic laws lies solely in municipal court.”

The Sixth District’s ruling said “The plain language of the ordinance also reveals that appellate city has attempted to divest the municipal court of some, or all, of its jurisdiction by establishing an administrative alternative without the express approval of the legislature. Such usurpation of jurisdiction violates Ohio Constitution, Article IV, Section 1, and is therefore a nullity.”

The Ohio Supreme Court has already agreed to hear Toledo’s appeal, and it’s likely Cleveland will appeal, as well.

Andrew Mayle, the attorney for both cases, told The Plain Dealer this was “a major victory for motorists. Cleveland’s going to have to basically cancel its program or file the cases they want to pursue in court.”

In June, the Ohio House passed H.B. 69, which would prohibit cities and the Ohio State Highway Patrol from using a “traffic law photo-monitoring device to determine a violation of either the state traffic light or speed limit statute.” It was a bi-partisan bill, which passed, 61 to 32.

The bill was referred to the Senate’s State Government Oversight & Reform committee where it’s been since then, though alternative language that would regulate, instead of ban, the cameras was also under consideration.

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Maggie formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.