Butler County judge bucks trend in speed camera lawsuits: What to know

New Miami’s controversial speed camera program will remain stalled after a Butler County judge denied motions to pause new state laws that severely cripple the village’s ability to run the revenue-generating program.

The village paused the lucrative speed cameras after a new law took effect last July that makes it financially impossible for the village to operate the cameras.

Village Solicitor Dennis Adams filed a suit in August that asked Judge Greg Howard for a temporary restraining order, and preliminary and permanent injunctions. He argued the new laws violate home rule rights to enforce traffic laws.

Howard issued his decision yesterday, saying the state didn’t overstep its authority.

“The provisions of H.B. 62 granting exclusive jurisdictions of tickets pursuant to traffic law photo enforcement programs with the municipal and county courts is a proper exercise of the power of the General Assembly,” Howard wrote. “Accordingly there is not a substantial likelihood that the village of New Miami would be successful in arguing these provisions are unconstitutional.”

Adams told the Journal-News Howard is one of only two judges in the state to find the new laws constitutional and he will likely appeal to the 12th District Court of Appeals. If he is successful in that venue the speed cameras will roll again, failure likely means the end of the police department.

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Chief Ross Gilbert tendered his resignation recently to pursue another career and that will leave only about three full-time officers protecting the village.

Former Mayor and current Councilman Bob Henley agreed the village must appeal the decision.

“It’s going to put us in a crunch for more than just the police department,” Henley said. “It’s a simple fact, we’re a very small village and we’ve got limited income, the state’s cut us left and right. So we just have to see how everything washes out and make some very tough decisions after that.”

When the new state transportation bill H.B. 62 passed, it reduced the amount of state financial aid local jurisdictions receive by the amount they collect annually in speed camera ticket revenue. It also mandated the courts handle speed camera citations as civil proceedings that include court fees and costs.

New Miami Fiscal Officer Belinda Ricketts said it would cost the village an estimated $612,000 in court costs, and tickets only generate about $222,000.

The village has another case in the 12th District, still fighting after six years against having to repay about 33,000 speeders $3.4 million. The old speed camera program was deemed unconstitutional after a group of drivers sued.

Adams said all of the other jurisdictions in the state have won injunctions against the state, except the village of Newburgh Heights. The common pleas judge there ruled much the way Howard did in finding the new laws legal, but the 8th District Court of Appeals overturned the lower court and granted an injunction.

Dave O’Neil, senior public information officer for Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, said the office would not comment on Howard’s decision. He confirmed six other jurisdictions have sued over the new laws: Toledo, Akron, Dayton, Newburgh Heights, East Cleveland and Monroeville. The AG’s office is filing summary judgment briefs in those cases and depending on the outcome, cases will be appealed, according to O’Neil.

Adams said he fully expects the 12th District to follow the 8th District’s actions and issue an injunction. If that happens he will recommend the village council reinstate the speed camera program.

“I would recommend it just because I’m confident on how the Supreme Court is going to rule,” Adams said. “Because the Supreme Court of Ohio has already addressed all of these issues and I think that’s why you see what I would consider a unanimous response from all the courts. Everywhere else but here the law seems to be well settled.”

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Ohio Rep. Bill Seitz, a Republican from Green Twp. and one of the prime architects of the punitive speed camera laws, pointed to a Dayton Daily News article that says that city has reinstated speed cameras, but only in school zones, which state law allows.

“You kind of know where people are going by the extent to which they’re willing to bet their money on the outcome,” he told the Journal-News. “To me that article about Dayton establishes that well, Dayton’s saying better safe than sorry and we’re not going to do this until it’s all sorted out at the Supreme Court level.”

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