COLUMBUS — A legal challenge to the way Toledo cites and levies fines on motorists caught by photo-enforcement cameras will be heard by the Ohio Supreme Court.
The high court agreed Wednesday to review a June 28 decision by Ohio’s 6th District Court of Appeals that found the city had unconstitutionally taken away the jurisdiction of Toledo Municipal Court by creating an administrative review process for those who run red lights or speed. The appeals court reversed Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Ruth Ann Franks’ dismissal of a class-action suit filed in 2011 against the city and RedFlex Traffic Systems.
Andrew Mayle, a Fremont attorney who brought the action, said the city ordinance deprives citizens of their day in court and ignores long-standing state law on a court’s jurisdiction.
“They’ve denied the cited people their statutorily and constitutionally protected day in court,” Mr. Mayle said. “... It’s a challenge that the hearing officers have zero jurisdiction to begin with. It’s the court that has jurisdiction.”
He contends that his client, Bradley Walker of Kentucky, and anyone who has paid a fine as a result of the photo enforcement cameras in Toledo deserves to get his or her money back.
The outcome of the legal challenge could have implications in municipalities throughout Ohio that have the controversial traffic-enforcement cameras.
The Ohio Municipal League, the cities of Columbus and Dayton, as well as another photo enforcement equipment provider, Optotraffic LLC, all have filed briefs in support of Toledo and RedFlex.
Toledo City Law Director Adam Loukx declined to comment on the pending litigation, saying only, “The city is pleased that it was accepted [for review], and we’ll be briefing it appropriately.”
In a memorandum he filed Aug. 9 asking the Supreme Court to review the case, Mr. Loukx said the appellate court had “effectively eliminated the ability of a home-rule city to establish review processes to review local noncriminal issues except where specifically authorized by the General Assembly.”
“If not reversed, the 6th District ruling will adversely affect similar municipal ordinances throughout the state and will undermine the well-established principles of home-rule established in the Ohio Constitution,” he wrote.
Mr. Mayle disagrees.
He insists the case has nothing to do with home rule and everything to do with the Ohio Constitution, which gives the General Assembly the authority to create a court and determine its jurisdiction.
An ordinance passed by a home-rule city does not trump state law, Mr. Mayle said.
“That’s what the appeals court found, and they’re exactly right, and I’m very confident the Supreme Court will say the same thing,” he said.
Mr. Mayle said that with lawsuits pending in other Ohio cities that use the cameras, he was not surprised the Supreme Court decided to review the Lucas County case.
The court’s decision could have wide-ranging effects, as attorneys for the Ohio Municipal League pointed out in their filing with the court.
“Considering the impact of this issue just on photo-enforcement programs, almost two dozen Ohio cities will be affected, including six of Ohio’s seven largest cities, and potentially every Ohioan who drives or owns a vehicle,” they wrote.
The future of the cameras in general is under fire in the state legislature where the Ohio House earlier this year approved a bill that would outright ban the use of cameras to enforce red lights and prohibit their use for speed enforcement except in cases of 20 mph school zones. Even then, a police officer must be present.
Senate hearings on the bill have begun, but there’s no indication that it will move before lawmakers head home for the holidays next week.
Supporters of the bill argue that cities are using the cameras as revenue producers without giving vehicle owners a proper chance to challenge the citations issued by mail.
Opponents of the bill, including the city of Toledo, argue that the cameras have been proven to save lives by reducing the number of crashes at red-light intersections.
Blade Columbus Bureau Chief Jim Provance contributed to this report.
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