By Dan Sewell
CINCINNATI: Drivers who got speeding camera tickets in a Cincinnati-area village are entitled to nearly $1.8 million in refunds, pending the village’s appeal of class-action status, a southwest Ohio judge ruled Thursday.
Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman, who last March ordered Elmwood Place to stop using the cameras and called them “a scam,” repeated that the village’s camera system violated Ohio’s constitution and rules on judicial process and public notice.
He said besides refunds of the $105 citations and other motorists’ costs, which total at least $1.76 million, the village is liable for the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees, because “Elmwood Place acted in bad faith in implementing the ordinance.” He said he wouldn’t make his order final until the class action appeal is resolved.
Attorney Mike Allen, who filed the lawsuit in late 2012, said there was no estimate yet on what attorneys’ fees might total. He added that the plaintiffs would be willing to discuss a “very reasonable” settlement to expedite the case rather than see appeals go on for months more.
“I think Elmwood Place should stop spending money on attorneys,” Allen said. “We’d like to put some money back in these people’s pockets.”
However, attorney Judd Uhl said the village plans to keep appealing Ruehlman’s decisions, including Thursday’s ruling, because it believes Ohio law is on its side.
“We feel pretty strongly about it,” Uhl said. “We don’t really intend to pay anything in this case.”
Officials in the mostly blue-collar village with 2,200 residents have said it has set aside money collected from the speeding cameras. A company that owned and operated the cameras received 40 percent of revenues.
Uhl last month said in court that the cameras allowed police to focus on violent crimes and drugs and to have more presence on the streets. The village also has said the camera enforcement resulted in a sharp decline in speeding.
Village business owners and a church pastor have said the resulting ticket blitz drove people away. Motorists’ attorneys said drivers had little chance to challenge the citations. They also said the village didn’t give proper notice camera enforcement was starting, resulting in thousands of speeding citations within the first month.
The case helped spur new lawsuits against cameras in nearby New Miami and in the northern Ohio village of Lucas. It’s drawn the attention of national opponents of camera enforcement.
Meanwhile, a 2011 challenge to Toledo traffic cameras is before the Ohio Supreme Court this year. That case challenges the use of administrative hearing officers instead of courts to handle camera ticket cases, saying the city is usurping court authority and violating motorists’ rights to due process.
And some Ohio legislators are pushing for a statewide ban on traffic cameras or restrictions on their use.