A Butler County judge has ruled that New Miami owes $3.4 million to about 33,000 drivers who paid fines in the village’s speed camera program that was later ruled unconstitutional.
The award includes $423,653 in interest, with a 10-year payout schedule.
Judge Michael Oster issued his final appealable order Wednesday morning that includes:
• Full $3 million restitution for the estimated 33,000 speeders,
• Interest that starts accruing Wednesday for a total of $423,653,
• Speeders’ attorneys fees totalling $1.2 million that comes out of the $3 million plus 33 percent interest on the accrued interest or $139,805,
• Speeders must also pay $360,000 out of the judgment for a fund administrator,
• He ruled the speeders’ attorneys will be reimbursed for $6,410 in litigation expenses.
Josh Engel, one of the speeders’ attorneys, said “this is a huge win for the rule of law” after the order came out.
“Won huge,” he said. “This is a great day. The judge ordered that people that paid money under this unconstitutional scheme are entitled to get all their money back.”
Subtracting the fees for the four attorneys who have worked on this case for six years and the fund administrator who will will handle the repayment, speeders will take home about $1.8 million.
Oster ordered the first annual payment of $349,007 be paid Wednesday, but James Englert, one of New Miami’s attorneys, filed their notice of appeal within hours of Oster’s order and asked the judge to “stay” any payments as the appeals process runs its course.
If Oster denies the stay, he has already identified in his order how speeders will get their money back. Oster said the fund administrator must make “reasonable and diligent efforts to update the addresses of the class members.” If checks are returned or remain uncashed, the administrator must make “reasonable efforts” the locate the estimated 33,000 speeders. He said the litigation expenses come first in the repayment plan.
“The fund administrator shall distribute to each member of the class a share of the remaining funds,” he wrote. “The amount to be distributed to each class member shall be proportionate to the payment made by the class member to the village. Refunds shall be made annually on a first-in-first-out basis.”
Englert said he was grateful the judge allowed the 10-year repayment plan and didn’t start the interest clock until Wednesday. The speeders’ attorneys wanted interest to begin when the first $95 ticket was paid. He said now they can get to the heart of the case with the appeals court.
“It’s a mixed bag from our point of view,” he said. “We’re glad we don’t have to appeal some those things. The two primary things we’re interested in is the due process issue, that’s the substantive basis for the whole case and we’ll appeal that. And we’ll also appeal the amount, the 100 percent instead of 60 percent.”
At a hearing last month, Tony Raluy, another attorney for the village, told Oster if the speeders want to collect the whole $3.6 million — which included estimated interest at that time— they need to also sue the third-party vendor, Optotraffic.
Engel said they plan to cross-appeal Oster’s decision on the repayment plan.
“We think the judge should have ordered them to pay interest going back to when the money was paid and we think he also should have made them pay immediately, rather than over ten years,” Engel said. “But those are issues we’ll take up with the Court of Appeals and we expect to succeed there.”
New Miami has paid its legal team $359,105 so far and that taxpayer-paid bill will continue to grow at the appellate level. Insurance doesn’t cover this type of litigation.
The speeders filed suit in 2013, and retired Judge Michael Sage declared the stationary speed camera program unconstitutional in 2014.
Englert said since that time other courts have dealt with the speed camera programs and he believes the village has a very good chance of prevailing with the 12th District Court. Engel told the Journal-News the 12th District rarely overturns lower court judges.
Pieces of the case have been appealed to the 12th District twice and the Ohio Supreme Court.
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