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Courts and Crime

Traffic cams may be legal in Ohio, but is the hearing process?
That's the debate Ohio Supreme Court justices took up today

Karen Kasler
Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor pressed on what belongs in court and what is left to home rule.
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A case that tests how cities can use automated cameras to catch and fine people who speed and run red lights went to the Ohio Supreme Court today. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler explains the arguments.

LISTEN: The closely watched debate

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The case comes from a ticket that Bradley Walker of Kentucky got from an automated traffic camera in Toledo in 2009. In 2011, he sued, claiming that the process by which he could appeal the ticket was unconstitutional.

Cities typically send a camera ticket appeal to an administrative hearing rather than into the court system, since the violation is civil, not criminal. And that’s appropriate under Ohio’s constitution, says Adam Loukx, who argued for the city of Toledo. 

“A principal part of that constitution is the home-rule authority of a city to self-govern. And a principal part of self-government, we submit, is the ability to set up administrative appeal boards to have quasi-judicial hearings on matters of local controversy.”

Courts couldn’t handle the load
Loukx said if all disputes ended up in the courts, they’d be overwhelmed – so cities have set up administrative panels such as civil service commissions, tax appeals boards, even taxicab commissions and dance-hall review boards. And he said anyone who wants to appeal a traffic camera ticket can do so after they pay the fine.

If they don’t like the hearing officer’s decision, they can take it to court – though he said that hasn’t happened often. And he acknowledged that information about the court option usually doesn’t accompany the ticket when it’s sent in the mail. But

It’s the courts’ business
Andrew Mayle, representing the cited driver Bradley Walker, argued that the administrative hearing process created by Toledo is unconstitutional because state lawmakers haven’t permitted it.

“The municipal court has jurisdiction unless the General Assembly says otherwise. Toledo cannot self-create an exception.”

And Mayle said drivers who don’t want to pay the tickets while they appeal the violations could risk losing their cars because the law allows the city to act on those tickets as if they were debts.

A bigger goal
After the arguments, the attorneys for the city of Toledo and the camera operating company declined comment.

But Maurice Thompson from the libertarian 1851 Center for Constitutional Law was talking. He helped Bradley Walker’s team, but for a bigger overall goal. 
“As a nominal legal matter, winning this case for us does not shut down the camera programs. What it means is that red-light camera tickets have to go through the municipal court. Now, as a pragmatic economic matter, what it means is that it’s no longer profitable and lucrative for cities to pursue these things.”

The driver, Bradley Walker, was also there to see his case argued before the state’s highest court. 

“Kind of surprised that it went like it did, I will tell you that. Did I expect when we first started talking about what was there that we didn’t appear today? I can’t tell you that I would ever believe that would be the case.”

A previous Ohio Supreme Court decision ruled cameras to catch speeders and red light runners are legal. It could be several months before a ruling on the hearing process, which Thompson says is used by the 15 Ohio communities that have traffic cameras. 


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