The Ohio Supreme Court will hear arguments this week about traffic cameras, though that doesn’t signal a stop yet to the growing legal challenges to their use in ticketing motorists for running red lights or speeding.
Motorists filed lawsuits last week against two Dayton suburbs, charging that their camera enforcement violates constitutional rights to due process and bypasses courts. That brings the number of court cases against cameras to at least eight.
The state Senate president says he expects legislative action on cameras before the year’s end.
The Ohio Municipal League has said the case against the city of Toledo’s cameras that justices will hear Wednesday could affect “every Ohioan who drives or owns a vehicle.” And a legal expert says the eventual ruling by Ohio’s high court has implications beyond cameras because the lawsuit contends that the city is usurping judicial authority by administering traffic cases itself.
“It’s a balance-of-power issue,” said Ohio State University law professor Ric Simmons, noting that the test of cities’ executive powers against judicial authority could produce “a long-ranging decision.”
Most of the state’s largest cities have traffic cameras, and several, including Columbus, Cleveland and Dayton, have filed written legal arguments supporting Toledo’s cameras.
, as have companies that own and operate the traffic cameras. Proponents contend the cameras free up police for other crime-fighting duties and make communities safer.
Toledo’s camera vendor and co-defendant, Redflex Traffic Systems of Phoenix, says it has operated camera systems in Ohio for more than a decade and is confident they have helped improve public safety.
“Redflex intends to vigorously defend these traffic safety camera programs as they are legal and consistent with Ohio law,” spokeswoman Jody Ryan said in a statement.
Critics say cameras are aimed at raising money more than improving safety and contend that the automated systems don’t give ticketed motorists a fair chance to challenge evidence, confront accusers and have their day in court.
“I believe most Ohioans have serious concerns about traffic cameras,” Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, told reporters last week, adding that he thinks they can be effective and efficient but that the public doesn’t trust cities’ contentions that they are there for safety, not revenue.
Bills that would sharply restrict camera enforcement are pending. They would require that a police officer be present and add modifications such as more sign warnings for motorists.
Ghassan Deek, a University of Dayton law school student and a plaintiff, said he was caught off-guard last year when he got a mailed citation for speeding because of a traffic camera.
“I didn’t even know they existed,” said Deek, who thinks someone might have borrowed his car. “I got ticketed by a machine.”
Simmons said the ruling, regardless of what it is, could lead to new legislation. And legislative bans could lead to cities countering in court that their “home rule” powers under the Ohio Constitution were being undermined. The high court ruled in 2008 that those powers allowed Akron to have traffic cameras.
“The battle will go on,” Simmons said.
Josh Engel, an attorney involved in lawsuits that won lower-court rulings halting cameras in two southwest Ohio villages, said the cases have drawn the attention of unhappy motorists in other communities who want to sue. In one, a Hamilton County judge last year 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.
“Every time we file one of these, we hear from more and more people in different areas,” Engel said.
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