CLEVELAND — An Ohio appeals court is considering whether drivers with leased vehicles qualify for $10 million in refunds on tickets generated by traffic enforcement cameras.
The cameras are used in Cleveland and cities in Ohio and other states to photograph vehicles running red lights or speeding and to then fine owners and have generated various challenges from drivers. In Cleveland, the challenge focuses only on drivers of rented and leased vehicles.
The 8th Ohio District Court of Appeals on Wednesday heard the challenge to $100 tickets issued by Cleveland before its law was amended last year to include drivers of leased and rented vehicles.
The class-action lawsuit claims that for more than three years the city illegally ticketed thousands of people driving leased vehicles under a law that provided only for fining car owners.
Appellate judges questioned the ordinance's legal foundation, The Plain Dealer reported Thursday.
“Is there any other civil case where you can have a judgment rendered against you without some sort of trial?” judge Kenneth Rocco asked. “It sounds like heads you lose, tails the city of Cleveland wins.”
Camera-generated tickets that carry $100 fines are civil infractions, unlike police-issued tickets that are criminal violations, and can be contested at the city's parking violations bureau.
Attorneys who filed the suit estimated the city wrongfully collected up to $10 million in fines from drivers of leased vehicles.
“When the errors were exposed, the city said, 'Too bad, it's your fault, you should have gotten a lawyer,'” attorney Paul Flowers said.
Jennifer Meyer, an assistant city law director, argued that Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles paperwork sent to the city showed drivers of leased cars as owners and the city only learned of leases if drivers took their cases to the parking violations bureau. Meyer said she could not say how many of the drivers challenged their camera-generated tickets and won.
Judge Mary Jane Boyle questioned the city's defense, saying that a person cannot violate an ordinance that does not apply to them “when they have paperwork that shows they are not the vehicle's owner.”