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Elmwood Place speed camera case goes back to court

Judge hears arguments in motion for class action

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ELMWOOD PLACE, Ohio – The judge who banned speed cameras in Elmwood Place says he will rule later this month on a motion for a class-action lawsuit against the village.

Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman heard arguments Thursday from attorney Mike Allen, who already represents hundreds of ticketed motorists, and Judd Uhl, special solicitor for the village.

Allen is seeking to have everyone ticketed by the cameras represented in the suit.

"We have, by our estimates, a potential of 7,000 to 10,000 plaintiffs. They can't go and litigate these cases individually," Allen said.

But Uhl argued differently.

"You have thousands of thousands of tickets with different scenarios, different circumstances. These people don't have a common interest at all," Uhl said.

Ruehlman said he will rule on Oct. 22.

Allen wants the village to pay back everyone who paid a $105 citation from the speed cameras.

Elmwood Place has the money to repay the tickets in reserve should it lose its case, Uhl said.

The village collected nearly $1.8 million in fines from the six speed cameras used from September 2012 to March 2013.

Elmwood Place split the ticket pot 60-40 with Optotraffic, the company that installed and operated the cameras. The village’s share was $1,056,515, according to an April 5 email accounting from Optotraffic. The Maryland-based company got roughly $704,000.

Several elected village leaders have quit amid the controversy. Mayor Stephanie Morgan resigned this week, and four of the seven council members resigned in May. Vice Mayor Robert Schmidt says he is serving as acting mayor.

In his March ruling, Ruehlman said the speed cameras were illegal because they violated due process, and he issued a permanent injunction against using them.

In June, Ruehlman found the village and Optotraffic in contempt because they continued to operate the cameras after his order to stop. The village argued that it was just collecting data, but Allen noted in his motion that the village continued to collect money from tickets previously issued.

Ruehlman ordered that all money collected from drivers after his March stop order be repaid. That amounted to about $48,500. He also had the sheriff’s office confiscate the cameras until the money was returned.

In his March ruling, Ruehlman called the use of speed cameras “a scam motorists can’t win” and “a game of three card monte,” rejecting the village’s claim they were installed to promote safety.

The cameras were calibrated to ticket any vehicle going over 5 mph, officials said.

In the first month the cameras were in use,  6,600 tickets went out - triple the village's population. Before some unsuspecting drivers realized it, they had racked up multiple citations.

Once a citation was issued, Ruehlman’s ruling said, there was virtually no way drivers could defend themselves in court. Plus, drivers who opted for a hearing had to pay a $25 fee.

Ruehlman also noted that Optotraffic had a financial stake in their use. 

Allen argued that Optotraffic couldn’t be trusted to calibrate the cameras accurately.

At the time, Ruehlman ordered Elmwood Place to pay back 10 plaintiffs who sued the village separately from Allen’s action. The judge also made the village pay legal fees.

Allen has also sued New Miami over the speed cameras in that Butler County village. That case is pending.

In June, the Ohio House passed a bill that would make speed cameras and red-light cameras illegal except in school zones. The bill, sponsored by Dale Mallory (D-Cincinnati) and Ron Maag (R-Lebanon), has been referred to the Senate committee on State Government Oversight and Reform.
 

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