– Judge to village: No cameras (The Columbus Dispatch, March 8, 2013):
CINCINNATI — A southwestern Ohio judge yesterday ordered a halt to a speeding-ticket blitz in a village that installed traffic cameras, saying it’s “a scam” against motorists.
Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman blasted the cameras and the thousands of $105 citations that resulted. He ruled that they violate motorists’ constitutional rights to due process and said the village’s enforcement was stacked against drivers.
“Elmwood Place is engaged in nothing more than a high-tech game of 3-Card Monty,” Ruehlman wrote, referring to a card game used by con artists. “It is a scam that motorists can’t win.”
The village began using the cameras in September, resulting in 6,600 speeding citations in the first month, triple the number of village residents. Revenue that is shared with the company that operates the cameras quickly topped $1 million.
Such cameras are used in municipalities across the country, and have been upheld in other courts.
But business owners and motorists charged in their lawsuit here against the village that the cameras were hurting Elmwood Place’s image and businesses, and said they were put into use without following Ohio law for public notice on new ordinances. They also said it’s unconstitutionally difficult to challenge the citations, and Ruehlman agreed in granting a permanent injunction against enforcement of the village ordinance that created an “automated speed enforcement program.”
Village Police Chief William Peskin said Elmwood Place will appeal the ruling. But in the meantime, it is halting use of the cameras.
“It’s a minor setback,” he said. “We will be back in appeals court.”
Police say up to 18,000 vehicles a day drive through the village, which links some big employers with I-75. Peskin said there were four cameras total, although only two were in use at a time. One was at village limits where speed drops from 35 mph to 25 mph; another was in a school zone. He said speeding had dropped “drastically” in the village.
“It’s unfortunate that the judge doesn’t see it as a safety issue,” Peskin said.
The village argued that camera enforcement by other municipalities has been upheld in other state courts, including in Ohio’s Supreme Court.
The Lanham-Md.-based company Optotraffic installed the Elmwood Place cameras and administered their use, in return for 40 percent of ticket revenue. The company is one of several U.S. firms in the camera business. Optotraffic has said several other southwestern Ohio municipalities have been awaiting the outcome of the Elmwood Place case before deciding on cameras.
An Optotraffic spokesman said he hadn’t seen the decision.
“It would be inappropriate to comment on the judge’s ruling, except to say that certainly has not been the opinion of courts around the country,” spokesman Tim Ayers said.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Mike Allen, called the ruling “a victory for the common people.” He said people who were unemployed, working poor and single mothers were hit with $105 citations they couldn’t afford. He said Ruehlman’s decision could spur more legal challenges and state legislation against traffic cameras.
“This is the first time that a judge has said, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” Allen said. “I think this nationally is a turning point.”