5/6/2011Ohio Supreme Court Defends Traffic Camera Program
Ohio Supreme Court rejects challenge to constitutionality of red light camera hearings.
Ohio's supreme court has a long history of defending traffic tickets, whether they happen to be issued by police or a machine. The court on Wednesday maintained this tradition in tossing out a constitutional challenge to the photo enforcement hearing process, denying the challengers the chance to present their case in full.
The high court first upheld the right of municipalities to issue speed camera and red light camera tickets in 2008, even though the state legislature had decided against authorizing such programs (view ruling). Other decisions upheld police officer-issued speeding tickets based solely on a visual guess of the driver's speed (view decision) and found that drivers who do nothing unsafe could still be ticketed (view opinion).
In this case, a group of motorists filed a class action lawsuit against Columbus arguing the city set up a "shadow" court system within the police department to handle traffic camera tickets and other ordinance violations as a mean of bypassing the municipal court. The General Assembly maintains the sole authority to establish municipal courts under the state constitution.
"The Franklin County Municipal Court has jurisdiction over absolutely all of Columbus' red light ordinance violations... because municipal courts have jurisdiction over the violation of absolutely and unequivocally all municipal ordinances, even fully decriminalized ordinances which regulate the standing or parking of vehicles, except where the violation is required to be handled by a parking violations bureau," attorney Paul M. Greenberger argued. "As a result, [the parties that run the Columbus red light camera hearings] are subject to the immediate issuance of a write of prohibition preventing them from exercising the judicial power over said violations which judicial power must be exercised by the judges of the Franklin County Municipal Court."
The Columbus ordinance also states that the hearing officer's decision may only be appealed to the municipal court and that any ruling by a Franklin County judge is "final and no other appeal may be taken." The challengers argued this ran contrary to a state law which specified that municipal decisions could be challenged before the court of appeals.
Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor did not provide justification for her decision to dismiss the challengers' argument. The Columbus city attorney moved for dismissal on the grounds that the direct appeal to the supreme court was improper.
"It is easy to see what the relators truly want -- a declaration that Columbus's ordinance is unconstitutional and an injunction forcing Columbus to return all the monies collected under the city's traffic camera enforcement system," City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr argued. "It is well established, however, that this court does not have jurisdiction over actions in which the real objects sought are declaratory and injunctive relief."
A copy of the order granting dismissal is available in a PDF file at the source link below.