Traffic light rulings worry cities

The red light/traffic camera issue is well & very much alive in the state of Ohio with the Columbus Dispatch yesterday morning noting that “while appeals courts in Toledo and Cleveland have ruled that city ordinances making red-light and speed-camera violations in-house administrative matters illegally deprive municipal courts of jurisdiction to handle moving traffic violations, Columbus and other cities say that a legal fight over photo traffic enforcement is about more — much more — than money and traffic safety.

“Unlike with parking violations,” the Dispatch said, “Ohio lawmakers have not empowered cities to determine guilt or innocence in administrative hearings involving civil violations of traffic laws, depriving those cited of due process.

“Cities fear, too, that a ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court overturning cities’ handling of red-light camera ticket appeals in local hearings could trash their ability to handle other violations in-house, from zoning to housing to health matters., arguing that upholding the ruling in the Toledo case and rejecting city hearings on civil traffic violations ‘could lead to immense disruptions in city administrations throughout Ohio’ and pack courts with costly cases. They contend that municipal courts hold no jurisdiction over civil matters.” (See Bradley L. Walker v. City of Toledo, et al.,2013-1277)

Here in Hamilton County, plaintiffs last year sued the Village of Elmwood over its traffic cameras. Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman in March 2013 ruled against the Village, terming the system  a “scam.” The Supreme Court declined jurisdiction over appeals by Elmwood Place and Optotraffic, LLC, the company providing cameras & services for Elmwood, and against Judge Ruehlman for a writ of prohibition in October 2013. Plaintiffs in the case had subsequently re-filed their case seeking class-action status from the trial court, which Judge Ruehlman had presumably sought to resolve by the end of the year. While that decision hasn’t been made as of yet, a article two weeks ago indicated his saying the village should refund speeding tickets from traffic cameras -- totaling nearly $1.8 million – while still staying execution of the holding pending resolution of the class action status of the appeal.

The Dispatch, meanwhile, further notes two addirional lawsuits in Franklin County Common Pleas Court seek the return of more than $16 million in Columbus fines.

Additionally, the article alludes to Ohio House Bill 69, introduced back in June by Representatives Ron Maag and Dale Mallory, from Cincinnati, which would allow operation of such cameras only in school zones during arrival and dismissal of students – and only when a law enforcement officer is already at the scene monitoring the device – was approved by the House of Representatives in June. It is now sitting in the Senate.

Sponsors of House Bill 69, are convinced the programs are unconstitutional money grabs by law enforcement and local governments, while, as a article back in October reported, “operators of camera programs throughout the state – including every major city in Ohio except Cincinnati – are pleading with politicians instead to consider regulating the technology instead of banning it altogether, arguing there are responsible programs in Ohio – including in the Butler County cities of Hamilton and Middletown – that accurately and fairly promote public safety and allow police departments to optimize their manpower in the face of dwindling staffing and shrinking budgets.”