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Battle Lines Form In Ohio Supreme Court Traffic Camera Rematch
Conservatives, liberals and lawmakers line up against municipalities and traffic camera firms in Ohio Supreme Court battle.

Ohio Supreme Court chamber
Twenty-eight Ohio state lawmakers and policy groups from both sides of the political spectrum have lined up against municipalities and photo ticketing vendors in a fight before the state's highest court. In 2008, the Ohio Supreme Court decided the legislature did not need to grant cities authority to install automated ticketing machines (view ruling), but since then opponents of automated ticketing machines have convinced lower courts that there are serious due process flaws. Briefs have been filed in the case that could put red light cameras and speed cameras out of business in the state.

Optotraffic, Xerox, Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia and American Traffic Solutions (ATS) have begged the court to save the photo ticketing program in Toledo. The Ohio Municipal League and the cities of Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton have also pleaded with the court to preserve the lucrative programs, as is. At issue is whether the city-run administrative hearings set up for photo ticket recipients are legitimate.

"These hearings are not and never have been considered charades, but provide a meaningful opportunity to be heard," attorney Richard S. Gurbst wrote on behalf of ATS and the city of East Cleveland.

The companies insist that holding hearings in municipal court before an independent magistrate would be too complicated for the ordinary citizen to handle. Redflex argued the same point, adding that there would be dire consequences if the Court of Appeals decision against Toledo were upheld.

"This is an important issue with far reaching implications," Redflex attorney Quintin F. Lindsmith wrote. "Not only does this case affect the almost two dozen Ohio cities that have automated traffic photo enforcement programs. It affects all Ohio cities. If left to stand... cities would lose the ability to self-govern."

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law joined in a friend of the court brief with state representatives and state senators to argue that municipalities and red light camera companies have no authority whatsoever to create "faux courts" to judge traffic violations. The lawmakers filed their argument last week.

"Amicus curiae Ohio state representatives and state senators represent and speak for, in aggregate, several million Ohioans," the lawmakers wrote. "This case is about whether Ohio municipalities can create and exercise judicial power, and then use that power (or anything less than legitimate judicial power) to deprive Ohioans of their property. They cannot. And their conduct relating to automated traffic cameras is an assault upon the Ohio Constitution, the Ohio General Assembly, and the people of Ohio."

The lawmakers argued the state Constitution mandates that judges hear such cases to ensure proper due process.

"Ohioans have expressly chosen elected judges and strict controls over unelected judges through elected members of the Ohio General Assembly," the lawmakers wrote. "Section 1, Article IV must be construed so that enterprising municipalities cannot circumvent these constitutionally-expressed preferences. As such, it must be construed in favor of a conclusion that Toledo's unaccountable and unauthorized hearing officers may not exercise judicial power to impose liability on Ohio drivers."

Oral arguments have not yet been scheduled in the case.

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