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Ohio Supreme Court Takes Up Photo Enforcement Again
Ohio cities petition state Supreme Court to overturn court decision on photo ticketing that could cost them $100 million.

Andrew R. Mayle
Ohio's Supreme Court may once again take up the legality of red light camera and speed camera programs. The cities of Toledo, Columbus and Dayton have joined Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia in petitioning the justices to overturn a Court of Appeals decision from June that found Toledo's administrative review process unconstitutional (view decision).

The ruling has city officials, as represented by the Ohio Municipal League, worried about the potential for losing millions if the court decides Toledo deprived vehicle owners of their due process rights by usurping the municipal court's jurisdiction in setting up administrative panels that offer the accused less of a chance to win their appeal.

"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," the Municipal League wrote in its amicus brief to the court.

The prospect of issuing refunds most immediately impacts Toledo where Redflex issued 68,115 photo tickets worth over $8 million last year alone.

"If the Sixth District ruling is not reversed, the financial impact upon cities could be significant as, impliedly, the ruling gives a green light to claims for unjust enrichment against cities that have enacted and enforced local ordinances in good faith," Toledo wrote in its brief to the court.

The cities and traffic camera vendors thought the issue of camera program legality had been put to rest in 2008 when the Ohio Supreme Court decided the legislature did not need to grant cities authority to install automated ticketing machines (view ruling). Bradley L. Walker thought otherwise and mounted what has so far been a successful challenge to the $120 ticket Redflex mailed to him in February 2011.

Walker and his attorneys fired back last week arguing a city cannot assert home rule authority to overturn a provision of the Ohio Constitution giving state exclusive jurisdiction over the court system. This, they argue is a point not seriously in contention.

"Rather than candidly acknowledging settled law, the appellants' obvious hope is that this court accepts jurisdiction and -- by judicial fiat -- exempts 'photo enforcement' ordinances from municipal court jurisdiction, when the legislature did not create the exemption itself," Andrew R. Mayle, Walker's attorney, argued. "Appellants offer no principled reason for this court to do this."

Redflex in its court briefs claims a loss in the case could cost cities $100 million. Optotraffic, a competing camera vendor, predicted "copy-cat lawsuits" would be filed in every jurisdiction. Walker's lawyers insisted these concerns are overblown.

"Government officials from these cities -- including Toledo's mayor -- have consistently maintained that photo enforcement programs are 'not about money,'" Mayle wrote. "Appellants make it seem that if they have to make restitution, the money will just evaporate into thin air. Not so. Money will be returned to actual people, no doubt some of the citizens referenced in Redflex's brief. Redflex and Toledo complain it will be a horrible event if they have to give the money back."

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