Elmwood Place loses bid to have Judge Robert Ruehlman disqualified from speed camera case

Ohio Supreme Court stands by judge

ELMWOOD PLACE, Ohio - The village of Elmwood Place has lost another legal battle in its bid to operate cameras that flag drivers for speeding tickets.

The Ohio Supreme Court denied the village's petition to disqualify Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman from the case. It said the judge's colorful comments weren't enough to prove bias.

In March, Ruehlman ruled that a village ordinance approving the cameras violated the due process rights of drivers. His blistering decision – he called the ordinance "a scam motorists can't win" and a "game of 3 card Monty" – also required Elmwood Place to immediately stop using the cameras.

Read the Supreme Court's judgment at  https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/708301-ohio-supreme-court-judgment-entry-judge-ruehlman.html

Read Elmwood Place's affidavit at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/708300-elmwood-place-affidavit-seeking-to-remove-judge.html

In an affidavit, Elmwood Place argued that Ruehlman's "words and actions create an overwhelming appearance of bias and prejudice" and "convey the impression that the judge has developed a hostile feeling or spirit of ill will and that the judge has reached a fixed anticipatory judgment that will prevent him from hearing the balance of the case with an open state of mind."

Ruehlman responded to the court by saying he often uses "colorful" language in his decisions so "when I issue a decision they're easy to understand."

The court acknowledged that "reasonable and objective observers might question" whether Ruehlman's language, tone and rhetoric were appropriate for a judicial opinion, but the court said Ruehlman's comments alone "do not convey the impression" that he has made up his mind on further decisions in the case.

The court also instructed the village that its proper remedy would be to appeal Ruehlman's ruling.

Hundreds of drivers who got $105 tickets as a result of the speed cameras have filed a class-action suit seeking repayment from the village. Their attorney, Mike Allen, also filed a contempt of court motion against Elmwood Place, claiming it issued a citation after the judge outlawed the speed camera program. A hearing scheduled Tuesday was continued.

Ruehlman ordered Elmwood Place to pay back 10 plaintiffs who filed suit against the village separate from the class-action suit. In that case, the judge also said the village had to pay for legal fees.

Elmwood Place installed six speed cameras in September 2012. There was a 5-mph threshold until the cameras snapped a photo of alleged violators. Once a citation was issued, Ruehlman's ruling said, there was virtually no way drivers could defend themselves in court.

Ruehlman also noted that Optotraffic, the company that operated the cameras, had a financial stake in their use. Citations from the cameras generated about $1.5 million, of which $900,000 went to the village and $500,000 was paid to Optotraffic.

In Ohio, there are at least 16 local governments that use some kind of speed or red-light camera. State Rep. Dale Mallory has introduced House Bill 69 to prohibit them. The bill is pending.

Camera opponents suggest local governments only use them to make money. Proponents contend that cameras help slow traffic speed, prevent accidents, snag violators and allow municipalities to keep an eye on the roads at a reduced financial cost.

WCPO Digital reporter Kareem Elgazzar contributed to this report.

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