12/19/2014Ohio Supreme Court Rescues Speed Cameras Once More
City councils in Ohio can create their own administrative tribunals to hear traffic cases, the state Supreme Court concludes.
Cities in Ohio have complete freedom to set up tribunals that do away with due process protections for motorists accused by a machine. A sharply divided state Supreme Court ruled 4 to 3 that the city of Toledo's home rule authority gave it carte blanche to set up administrative hearings to deal with red light camera and speed camera tickets.
Without permission from the General Assembly, in 2008 Toledo allowed Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia to set up shop and issue $120 traffic tickets in the city's name. Vehicle owners could only contest these fines by attending an administrative hearing set up by Toledo. Bradley Walker filed a challenge to his citation on the grounds that the state constitution gives only the legislature the power to set up judicial bodies.
The high court majority did not buy that reasoning and instead agreed with Redflex that cities set up quasi-judicial taxicab review boards without statutory authority, so automated ticketing tribunals should be allowed as well. The court majority insisted the 2008 Mendenhall v. Akron case allowing cities to set up camera programs on their own authority includes permission to set up judicial panels (view decision).
"The reality of municipal civil enforcement of ordinances does not involve regulating the jurisdiction of courts," Justice Sharon L. Kennedy wrote for the majority. "As we made clear in Mendenhall, civil enforcement of municipal ordinances complements the work of the courts. It does not restrict it... We agree with Redflex's proposition that municipalities have home-rule authority to establish presuit civil administrative proceedings, including administrative hearings, on civil liability for traffic-law violations."
The three dissenting justices countered that it is absurd to say that a city council has the power to restrict the jurisdiction of the municipal court by taking away the right to hear traffic camera cases and hand it to a hearing officer. Under state law, the municipal court has jurisdiction over "any ordinance" within its territory, except parking tickets. The dissenting justices accused their colleagues of playing word games.
"It is evident under this statute that the General Assembly has vested the municipal court with jurisdiction over the violation of any ordinance generally and any misdemeanor specifically, other than parking violations," Justice William M. O'Neill. "The term 'any ordinance' does not need interpreting. It is clear on its face. Other than the specifically mentioned parking violation ordinances, 'any ordinance' covers 'any ordinance,' which includes Toledo Municipal Code 313.12. This is the only logical interpretation of this statute."
Since Ohio judges are elected, the dissenting justices argued that Toledo undermined the legislature's intent by handing the power to decide innocence and guilt to an unelected hearing officer.
A copy of the decision is available in a 70k PDF file at the source link below.