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COLUMBUS — Toledo’s traffic-enforcement cameras may survive, but if the Ohio Supreme Court strikes down the program’s administrative hearing process, it would have “untold consequences” across the state, the city argued Wednesday.
An attorney for a Kentucky man challenging the process countered that the city has unconstitutionally sidestepped the jurisdiction of Toledo Municipal Court in deciding guilt or innocence when it comes to these traffic violations.
The high court did not immediately rule, and, based on their questions, appeared divided. There are red-light cameras within blocks of where the justices heard arguments.
This marks the second time the court has considered the constitutionality of such cameras.
In 2008, it upheld them as an extension of cities’ police powers under their home-rule authority.
But this is the first time it has heard the argument raised by Bradley L. Walker. In Toledo, appeals of decisions of administrative hearing officers go to Lucas County Common Pleas Court.
Mr. Walker paid the $120 fine he received in 2009. Under its current agreement, Toledo keeps $90.25 of the fine with the rest going to operator RedFlex Traffic Systems.
“Walker has alleged they have my money under this unconstitutional ordinance, and I want it back,” said Mr. Walker’s Fremont attorney, Andrew R. Mayle.
The city contends it has the right under its home-rule authority to frame an administrative process to handle the civil citations just as it would citations for things like public nuisances.
In addition to a common pleas court appeal, motorists can file a separate action in municipal court to challenge a city’s action, Adam Loukx, the city’s law director, told the court.
He said the cameras would survive, but a decision striking down the city’s right to pursue an administrative hearing process to process the citations would “have untold consequences and establish a very negative precedent around the state.”
Cities like Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton are also watching the case, knowing their own programs could be in jeopardy.
Justice Judith Lanzinger, of Toledo, who wrote the 2008 decision upholding the cameras, said she doesn’t see how the court’s holding in that case doesn’t apply to this one.
But one justice who has since joined the court, Justice William O’Neill, suggested the ruling created “the legal fancy that traffic violations are civil violations.”
Justice Paul Pfeifer, who agreed the cameras were constitutional in the 2008 decision, suggested such an administrative hearing process could turn common pleas courts into traffic courts.
Programs differ from city to city, but they generally treat violations captured by cameras as civil violations that carry a fine split between the city and the private company operating the cameras. An attorney representing Redflex Traffic Systems also defended the city’s program before the justices.
Critics of such programs have argued that the cameras have become more about generating revenue for cities and less about safety.
Unlike a criminal violation, the citations to not assess points against a driver’s license and motorists’ insurance companies are not notified.
Meanwhile, a pair of bills awaits lawmakers when they return to the Statehouse in late September to either strictly regulate or all but ban the use of such cameras.
Former Justice Andrew Douglas sat at the table with the attorneys for the city and Redflex before the bench.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.