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GIRARD Ex-councilman sues city over traffic light camera



Published: Fri, August 19, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The mayor says he wasn't surprised by the legal action.

By ED RUNYAN

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- A Girard resident who is a former councilman filed a lawsuit seeking to put the brakes on the city's controversial video traffic system.

Daniel Moadus Jr. filed the action in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court on Thursday, trying to overturn the city's 2-month-old traffic ordinance that set the system into motion.

The system, hailed by city officials as a way to improve safety and loudly criticized by many others as an unfair money grab, went into effect in early August.

A hearing is set for 9:30 a.m. Sept. 7 before Judge John Stuard.

The system uses a video camera and radar detector to record red-light and speeding violations. The offender receives and pays the fine by mail. The ordinance makes the violation a civil offense that carries no points on a driver's record.

The penalty for each offense is $85, with $60 of it going to the city and the rest going to Traffipax, the company that provides the system.

In the self-penned lawsuit, Moadus says the city is in violation of Ohio and U.S. constitutions and state law because Ohio "has deemed that traffic violations are criminal offenses," and that the city does not have the right to "change crimes to civil offenses."

The suit says the city also violates state law by not assigning points for the violations and for not distributing a portion of the fine money to the state, as it does for traffic citations not issued with use of the cameras.

Further, it states that the ordinance violates due process requirements in the U.S. Constitution by requiring the car owner to pay the fine -- regardless of whether he or she was the one driving at the time.

According to the lawsuit, the city excuses the violation imposed on the car owner if he provides an affidavit stating that he was not the person driving and provides the name and address of the driver. The lawsuit states, however, that this places an undue burden on the owners of the vehicles.

Moadus claims stopping the system would do no harm to the city. Conversely, allowing it to continue could do harm to citizens that would be "difficult if not impossible to remedy." He asks Judge Stuard to issue a preliminary injunction to stop their use until the case is heard.

Melfi's defense

Mayor James Melfi said he was not surprised to hear of the lawsuit. The mayor said he didn't believe it would be able to stop the cameras because such systems are "being used all over the country."

"Anytime you do something different in government, you will have people who will challenge what you try to do," Melfi said. "We will decide it in court."

He defended the system by saying residents of streets such as Mosier, Trumbull, Churchill and Shannon roads, and Ward Avenue are happy because it has slowed down traffic there.

He acknowledged that in other areas, the system has not been universally popular. The bottom line for him, Melfi said, is that it has been successful in slowing down traffic throughout the city.

It's not true that the system is going to give tickets to drivers who are only a couple miles an hour over the limit, he added. For example, during an eight-hour period last Saturday when the camera was operating on the north end of U.S. Route 422, 3,121 cars came through; 2,412 were over the speed limit, and 64 were issued citations, Melfi said.

These numbers prove that the city is not out to "gouge" anyone, he said.




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