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Ohio cities back Toledo in traffic-camera case

From staff and wire reports

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After a string of rulings against traffic cameras, cities that use them are urging the Ohio Supreme Court to uphold the automated speeding and red-light enforcement.

Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton and East Cleveland all are part of legal briefs filed in recent days supporting Toledo’s cameras. An appeals court ruled last year for a motorist ticketed in that northwest Ohio city. His lawsuit contends Toledo’s system usurps municipal court jurisdiction and violates motorists’ rights by giving them limited ability to contest camera citations.

A brief filed jointly by the Ohio Municipal League, Columbus and Dayton warns that the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals ruling “has set a dangerous precedent that could lead to immense disruptions in city administrations throughout the Ohio.” It says the case potentially could affect “every Ohioan who drives or owns a vehicle.”

The Ohio Supreme Court upheld speeding cameras in a 2008 Akron case, and traffic cameras have withstood other court challenges.

Akron’s program was started after the 2005 death of Tony Swain, 10, who was struck by a hit-skip driver while he was walking to school. The boy pushed his 6-year-old sister out of the path of the speeding car. The driver never was caught.

The boy’s death led Akron to install speed cameras in school zones.

Later, the city and its camera contractor, Nestor Traffic Systems Inc., were sued by Akron attorney Warner Mendenhall, whose wife, Kelly, had been fined. The ticket was dismissed, but the Mendenhalls pursued the lawsuit.

In 2008, federal Judge David D. Dowd Jr. ruled that the system, which issued $100 fines to the owner of a car photographed speeding in a school zone, was civil rather than criminal in nature.

As a result, he found that the owners of cars fined for speeding in school zones are not entitled to the constitutional protections that would apply if they were charged with a crime.

Upon appeal, the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2010 sided with Dowd, saying the cameras did not violate the Constitution’s due-process protections.

Last year, a Hamilton County judge ordered a stop to speeding cameras in the Cincinnati-area village of Elmwood Place, calling them “a scam” against motorists. Another state appeals court ruled last week against Cleveland’s traffic-camera system on grounds similar to the Toledo ruling, while Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman said Elmwood Place should pay some $1.8 million to ticketed motorists if an appeals court upholds class-action status.

In the Toledo case, driver Bradley Walker didn’t argue directly against camera use, but said the system lacks the required due process to allow motorists their day in court.

The latest legal briefs contend 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.

“If a person received a notice of violation of a local ordinance prohibiting tall grass and disagreed with the content of the notice, he would no longer be able to appeal to a non-formal administrative proceeding but, instead, would have to go to municipal court and unnecessarily endure lengthy, formal and costly proceedings,” attorneys for Toledo wrote to the court, contending that the 6th District ruling “got it terribly wrong.”

Andrew Mayle, a Fremont attorney who represents both Walker and the driver in the Cleveland case, said he soon will file his response.

“It seems like they’re making some of the same arguments that have been rejected already,” Mayle said Tuesday. “Basically what they’re arguing is that a city has the power to pick and choose when its ordinances are enforced in court and when they’re not.”

Camera enforcement has been spreading nationally. Supporters say cameras stretch police resources and make communities safer. Opponents charge that they are revenue-raisers that violate constitutional rights.

Some Ohio legislators want to ban or restrict traffic cameras statewide, while legal challenges in at least five municipalities are working through courts.

The Ohio Supreme Court could rule in the Toledo case late this year, depending on how long filings take.


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