11/18/2013Ohio Court Of Appeals Blocks Red Light Camera Scam
Appeals court in Ohio rejects claim of man judges believed had been trying to scam the red light camera program for millions.
Though many view red light cameras as a way for cities to extract money from the public, the Ohio Court of Appeals on Friday shut down what it saw as one man's attempt to use the cameras to make money off of a city. A three-judge panel rejected Edward Verhovec's demand for records about the traffic camera program operated on the city's behalf by Redflex Traffic Systems, an Australian company. Verhovec had filed public information requests, working as an investigator for attorney Paul Cushion.
On June 15, 2011, Verhovec asked Northwood to supply a copy of every single photograph taken by the Redflex cameras in Northwood in the six years that the program has been operational. Redflex and the city complied, sending some images, but Verhovec says the city refused to provide images showing "potential" violations.
Verhovec filed suit, asking a judge to compel the city and Mayor Mark Stoner to hand over the photographs. Last December, the trial judge threw out the case with a two-sentence summary judgment. Verhovec appealed, but the appellate judges were not sympathetic to a man that had missed deadlines for filing his request for discovery.
"Appellant could have certainly filed a motion to compel or a motion for continuance of discovery prior to the discovery deadline if he felt [Northwood Police Chief Thomas] Cairl's responses were inadequate or insufficient," Judge Mark L. Pietrykowski wrote for the court. "Instead, appellant opted to file his discovery motions after the discovery deadline had passed. Considering the tardiness of appellant's motions, we cannot conclude that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his Civ.R. 56(F) motion for a continuance and his motion to compel discovery."
Under the version of Ohio law in effect at the time of the request, individuals could file a lawsuit to recover $1000, plus attorney's fees, each time a city refuses to turn over documents that qualify under the law. The individual must show he is "aggrieved" by the city's failure to collect the money, and the court did not believe Verhovec actually wanted photos.
"Appellant admitted in his deposition that he had no interest in the content of the images and was simply interested in whether they existed or not," Judge Pietrykowski wrote. "Further, in his deposition, appellant concedes that his only reason for interest in the records was to satisfy his contract with attorney Paul Cushion so he could get paid. As a result, appellees have established through clear and convincing evidence that appellant's goal in requesting the records was to seek forfeiture and he is therefore not an aggrieved party entitled to civil forfeiture."
Ohio court precedent does not allow overly broad requests for "all emails" or "all traffic reports" without limit.
"Here appellant is requesting all of the digital images of the photo enforcement program over its entire six-year existence," Judge Pietrykowski wrote. "Such a request, like those previously mentioned, is unreasonable in scope and should not be entitled to mandamus relief."
The Ohio Supreme Court last month rejected a similar case from Verhovec involving a request that the city of Marietta provide all the survey cards returned by residents to the city.
A copy of the decision is available in a 110k PDF file at the source link below.