ELMWOOD PLACE - Judge Robert Ruehlman has ordered Elmwood Place and its camera vendor to pay back $48,500 they collected from speed camera tickets after Ruehlman ordered the village to shut down the cameras on March 7.
Ruehlman found the village and Optotraffic in contempt of his order on Thursday, directed the sheriff's office to confiscate the camera equipment and ordered Elmwood Place to pay for towing and storage.
The judge also granted attorney Mike Allen's request to certify a class action. Allen, who represents hundreds of drivers who received $105 speeding tickets from the three cameras, said he intends to get refunds for every one.
"Judge Ruehlman said the program is shut down. The cameras are off. Stop collecting money. They didn't," Allen said. "They got their hands in the taxpayers' pockets again to the tune of $48,000. Judge Ruehlman did the right thing and ruled for them to give it back, and they're astounded by that. They act like they're offended.
"I don't get it. I don't think the Village of Elmwood Place gets it. But thankfully Judge Ruehlman gets it."
Drivers paid nearly $1.8 million for speed camera tickets in Elmwood Place after the cameras were installed last September.
Elmwood Place split the pot 60-40 with Optotraffic, the Maryland company that installed and operated the cameras.
Elmwood Place's share was $1,056,515, according to an April 5 email accounting from Optotraffic. The Maryland company got roughly $704,000.
Drivers who opted for a hearing also paid a $25 fee.
Allen said Elmwood Place and Optotraffic continued to operate the cameras after March 7.
"The chief (William Peskin) testified that they were collecting data on speeding, but that's still a direct violation of the judge's order," Allen said. "The chief testified that he advised people not to make payments after March 7, but I take that at face value. The testimony shows he knew that Optotraffic was still collecting payments (after March 7)."
Allen submitted copies of emails between Optotraffic and Peskin as well as other records. Optotraffic sent weekly emails to Peskin accounting for ticket payments received and money distributed.
Emails dated March 22, March 29 and April 5 recorded ticket payments collected after March 7.
In a March 27 email, Optotraffic notified Peskin it had disabled the ability to make ticket payments online, by phone or by mail.
In an April 5 email, Optotraffic told Peskin it wouldn't disburse any more funds coming into the Elmwood Place lockbox.
In a May 10 email, Optotraffic advised Peskin they could use the camera on Vine Street to gather data.
Other emails to Peskin revealed a new idea from Elmwood Place for issuing speeding tickets and attempts by Optotraffic to lobby against an Ohio House bill that would outlaw speed cameras and red-light cameras in the state.
In a March 25 email to Peskin, Elmwood Place Mayor Stephanie Morgan shared a link to a story about license plate readers and wrote: "Hey saw this on the news and wanted to share it since we are getting them sometime."
In an April 15-17 email string, Optotraffic employees discussed lobbying against Ohio House Bill 69. They suggested getting Peskin to testify against the bill and emailed Peskin on April 17 asking him to call them.
Optotraffic was subpoenaed but didn't respond and didn't show up in court for Thursday's hearing.
Elmwood Place officials said they will have to go through Optotraffic to make refunds because they don't know who got ticketed. Drivers paid their tickets through Optotraffic and Optotraffic sent the village its share of the money.
Ruehlman said he would return the camera equipment and lift the contempt ruling when the $48,500 is returned.
Allen had filed a contempt motion claiming the village continued using the cameras after Ruehlman's March 7 order. Ruehlman called the ticketing operation "a scam that the motorists can't win" and said the purpose was to collect revenues, not to control traffic.
"The entire case against the motorist is stacked because the speed monitoring device is calibrated and controlled by Optotraffic," he wrote, noting that Optotraffic got a cut of the ticket money.
Ruehlman's contempt order came one day after the Ohio House passed the legislation that would ban using cameras for traffic enforcement in the state. The bill moves to the Senate for consideration.
9 On Your Side reporters Tom McKee and Mario Ramirez contributed to this story.
Read the e-mails and other testimony presented by Allen at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/717981-elmwood-place-documents-re-speed-cameras.html
(WCPO Digital removed some pages that displayed personal checks and private information and others not specifically related to this case.)