Judge: New Miami can keep funds from new speed camera program

Proceeds from New Miami’s new program to catch speeders won’t be garnished to satisfy the $1.8 million in fines unconstitutionally collected under the village’s former speed camera.

Judge Michael A. Oster Jr. issued the ruling recently — following an oral argument last month — saying garnishment is an “extraordinary remedy” and he finds no evidence the village is trying to defraud speeders.

“The facts show that the village of New Miami entered into a basic legal contract for services,” he wrote in a two page decision. “Said contract contains nothing unusual — much less any intent to defraud.”

New Miami contracted with Blue Line Solutions of Athens, Tenn., at the end of January for use of hand-held speed cameras.

At any given time a patrol vehicle, with an officer aiming the camera, can be seen tucked in between buildings on the main drag just at the point where the speed limit drops coming out of Hamilton to 35 mph, past the bridge on U.S. 127.

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The drivers’ lawyers were insisting the village is perpetrating a fraud — which state law says has to be an element to garnish — by moving the money out of state, beyond control of the court and reach of the people suing.

New Miami’s former speed catcher program was deemed unconstitutional in 2014, when Butler County Common Pleas Judge Michael Sage banned its use and granted the case class-action status, meaning thousands of other motorists who had been cited could join a lawsuit and seek a legal remedy.

Since then, the case has twice gone to the 12th District Court of Appeals and is now waiting at the Ohio Supreme Court, to see if justices will agree to hear it.

The village has paid more than $80,000 defending itself in the court proceedings.

Under the new program New Miami collected $162,056 as of June 30, according to village Solicitor Dennis Adams.

One of the driver’s attorneys Josh Engel said the most important part of Oster’s decision is actually a footnote that says the village “has $1.2 million in funds set aside.”

“We brought this motion because we were concerned that the village would not be able to pay the inevitable judgment against it — a judgment requiring that it repay the motorists who paid fines under an unconstitutional scheme,” Engel said. “We will watch this closely to make sure that this $1.2 million is preserved to repay motorists and not spent on unnecessary expenses.”

James Englert, the village’s attorney handling this case, said the money isn’t “set aside specifically to satisfy a judgment” they were just pointing out the village had $1.2 million in unencumbered funds as of the end of May. He said Oster made the right decision.

“They had no evidence at all of fraud, they were out there inferring it,” he said. “We’re very pleased about that just because certainly there is nothing about the way this contract was set up that was intended to defraud anybody.”

The lawyers expect the Supreme Court to decide whether it will accept jurisdiction over the case by September.

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