By Dan Sewell
CINCINNATI: Nearly 30 Ohio legislators and two civil liberties groups are backing a motorist’s challenge to traffic cameras that’s going before the Ohio Supreme Court.
Among the lawmakers are Reps. Dale Mallory, D-Cincinnati, and Ron Maag, R-Lebanon, who are pushing legislation to ban or sharply restrict camera use in the state. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law filed legal briefs this week urging the state’s high court to rule in favor of a motorist who said the city of Toledo usurped the judicial system and violated his constitutional rights to due process.
The brief filed by the 1851 Center is joined by 29 state legislators who say traffic enforcement systems, in which administrative hearings are used to hear appeals by ticketed motorists, attempt to “circumvent and thwart” the state legislature’s powers as well as the courts.
“The city of Toledo’s automated traffic camera ordinance attempts to exact property from Ohio drivers through administrative hearing officers, without access to an elected and accountable judge or a judge authorized by the state’s duly elected and accountable legislators,” the legal brief states.
“It makes sense that legislators would intervene and try to defend their own constitutional powers,” said Andrew Mayle, a Fremont attorney who represents the driver in the Toledo case.
Other Ohio cities — including Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton — that use cameras for traffic enforcement have filed briefs in support of Toledo. The Ohio Municipal League stated that the case could potentially affect “every Ohioan who drives or owns a vehicle.” Briefs from the cities argue that Ohio law allows them to administratively handle a variety of matters such as zoning issues, and that forcing them into courts would be costly and clog the judiciary. The cities are backed by companies that operate the traffic cameras for a portion of the revenues.
Supporters say cameras stretch police resources and make communities safer. Opponents charge that they violate rights and are meant mainly to raise revenue.
A Butler County judge last month ordered the village of New Miami to stop using cameras for speeding enforcement, following a Hamilton County judge’s order that the Cincinnati area village of Elmwood Place had to turn off its speeding cameras.
Attorneys for Toledo will have time to respond to the latest filings, and then the justices likely will hear oral arguments in the case later this year.
Mallory said legislation against cameras that passed the House last year is moving “at a turtle’s pace” in the Senate. Instead of an outright ban, final legislation likely will allow camera enforcement in school zones and possible other uses with conditions, he said.
“I would have rather had a complete ban,” Mallory said, but he added that he just hopes the issue is resolved soon.
“Citizens of Ohio are still being victimized by these cameras,” Mallory said. “Right now, this whole process is unconstitutional and it goes on every day.”
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