Ohio Supreme Court hears traffic cameras case - 13abc.com Toledo (OH) News, Weather and Sports

Ohio Supreme Court hears traffic cameras case

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The legal battle over Toledo’s red light and speed cameras took center stage in the state capital on Wednesday.

The Ohio Supreme Court in Columbus heard oral arguments in the lawsuit challenging how Toledo fines drivers caught on camera.

It’s a case that puts the fate of the city’s red light and speeding camera program on the line.

Based on comments and questions from the justices during the nearly 45 minute hearing, the Ohio Supreme Court appears split on the issue of whether the camera system is improperly bypassing the courts.

However, justices did not make a decision in the case of Walker v. Toledo today.

"Walker has alleged they have my money under this unconstitutional ordinance and I want it back,” says Andrew Mayle, the Fremont attorney representing Bradley Walker, the Kentucky man who received a traffic camera ticket while driving in Toledo.

The question before the Ohio Supreme Court: does the appeals process for red light camera violations strip courts of jurisdiction?

"We believe that is absolutely not the case and that the ramifications of allowing a decision, such as one out of the 6th district that does that, has untold consequence and establish a very negative precedent around the state,” says Adam Loukx, the Law Director for the City of Toledo.

Justice Paul Pfeifer asks Loukx, “Other than the loss of revenue… is that the untold consequence? Or is there an over-arching legal principle that would be the untold consequence?”

Loukx answers, “It's the over-arching legal principal."

Loukx says the administrative hearing process was set up 13 years ago by an ordinance established under the city’s home rule powers.

The attorney challenging the city says drivers shouldn’t first face a hearing officer for civil violations.  Instead, he says they should face a Municipal Court Judge.

"If a police officer has a radar gun, he takes it to Municipal Court. {State law} requires the same thing unless the General Assembly creates jurisdiction,” says Mayle.

An attorney representing the camera company, Redflex Traffic Systems, also spoke to the justices in Columbus defending Toledo.

 "There is nothing in this ordinance that keeps anybody from going to Municipal Court,” says Quintin Lindsmith, an attorney representing Redflex. 

One of the justices asks Lindsmith, “How do they get to the Municipal Court?” 

Lindsmith answers, “They don't have to go to the Municipal Court, which I guess is my point, your Honor.  Because the precise question before the court ... is the Municipal Court being divested, stripped of any jurisdiction?”

Justice Pfeifer says, “Well, you just said there's nothing here that keeps them from going to Municipal Court.  I don't understand after listening to your co-counsel what you're talking about.”  Lindsmith answers, “I'm trying to clarify that, your Honor.”  Justice Pfiefer says, “You're not doing a very good job."

There are legal consequences, but losing the case could also mean a big drop in revenue for the city.  According to the City of Toledo Finance Department, the cameras have brought in a total of $12.5 million in fines since the program began in 2001.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio Supreme Court justices questioned attorneys Wednesday on whether traffic camera systems used across the state are improperly bypassing its courts.

Justices heard arguments in the case of a motorist ticketed in Toledo five years ago. They didn't state a timetable for a ruling, which could affect motorists and municipalities around the state.

Most of the state's largest cities use camera enforcement, and at least eight lawsuits against cameras are working through other courts. Camera advocates say they free up police for other crime-fighting and make communities safer, while foes contend they are aimed at raising revenues and trample motorists' constitutional due process rights. Legal challenges have recently reached supreme courts in three other states.

Attorney Andrew Mayle of Fremont said cities are usurping the judicial system by making motorists appeal camera-generated citations within the city's own administrative procedures.

"They take the judges' power and give it to the hearing officers," Mayle told the justices.

He countered arguments by Toledo's law director and the attorney for Toledo's camera vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems of Phoenix, that motorists can go to court, saying administrative hearing officers have been given jurisdiction.

The justices also raised questions about how motorists could appeal to a judge.

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor asked Toledo law director Adam Loukx if the hearing officers advise ticketed drivers they can appeal to a court. Loukx said he didn't know.

Loukx said the camera systems are allowed under local self-governing powers provided by the Ohio Constitution and were upheld earlier by the court in a 2008 case on Akron's traffic cameras.

"It is clear that under home-rule authority ... that we can have these cameras," Loukx told the justices, saying that municipalities are allowed to regulate a number of local civil matters and that allowing a lower court's decision in favor of the motorist to stand could have "untold consequences" around the state.

Bradley Walker, a Paducah, Kentucky, businessman, is the lead plaintiff in the case against Toledo. He was ticketed for speeding in 2009 and paid a $120 fine before deciding to sue.

"I had to pay the fine or get my vehicle impounded, and that wasn't any choice at all," Walker said afterward. He believes the system is weighted against motorists and said he was pleased his case reached the Supreme Court.

The California Supreme Court last week ruled unanimously against a motorist's challenge to a camera-generated red light citation. The Illinois Supreme Court heard oral arguments last month in a challenge to Chicago's red-light cameras, while the Missouri Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a speeding-camera case involving a radio host.

One of the sharpest rejections of cameras came last year in Hamilton County, where a judge compared Elmwood Place's camera system to a con artist's card game, calling it "a scam" against thousands of motorists who racked up $105 speeding fines within weeks of the cameras' installation.

Attorney Josh Engel, part of the law firm that sued Elmwood Place and four other Ohio municipalities over cameras, watched Wednesday's arguments in the courtroom audience. He said he hopes the justices will find that cities are overstepping their authority, but even if the court doesn't agree, lawsuits could continue on other issues.

"We still have a long ways to go," Engel said.

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