High court turns away local speed camera case

New Miami could have to pay back $1.8 million to accused speeders.

The high court, by a 4-to-3 vote, declined to take the case that has bounced between common pleas and appellate courts for two years. Now, the case goes back to Butler County Common Pleas Court, where attorneys for the accused speeders will ask Judge Michael A. Oster Jr. to order the village to repay $1.8 million it unconstitutionally collected under its old speed camera practices.

“The case is squarely back in front of Judge Oster,” said attorney Josh Engel. “We are going to ask, at this point Judge Oster, to award all the motorists who paid fines under the unconstitutional scheme for their money back.”

If the judge grants the motion, New Miami will appeal again, according to James Englert, the village’s outside counsel. When the village filed its appeal with the high court in May, the legal bill was around $80,000.

New Miami appealed a decision to certify a class of speeders by the 12th District Court of Appeals earlier this year. Two local judges have declared the tiny village has unconstitutionally collected $1.8 million in fines from speeders.

New Miami’s former speed 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.

Sage ruled the administrative hearing process New Miami employed did not offer speeders due process rights. The case has twice gone to the 12th District Court of Appeals, and Englert said if Oster grants the speeders’ request for repayment of fines, they will be headed back there.

New Miami’s attorneys have maintained since none of the named plaintiffs went through the administrative hearing process, they don’t have standing — based on Supreme Court ruling — to challenge the cameras. The high court ruled that the administrative hearings many jurisdictions use as opposed to municipal court hearings are fine, but also said the administrative hearings must be exhausted before judicial remedies can be pursued.

“Plaintiffs that did not go through the administrative hearing that they claim to have been injured by, lack any injury and therefore lack standing,” Englert said. “It is a jurisdictional requirement that any plaintiff have injury and, without it, they are just not allowed to bring a claim.”

After the old program ended, 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.

Under the new program New Miami collected $162,056 as of June 30, according to village Solicitor Dennis Adams. The speeders recently lost a bid to have collections under the village’s new speed camera program garnished to pay back those fines. The village’s share of the virtually automatic $95 ticket is 65 percent, or $61.75.

Engel said his clients shouldn’t expect to see any money come soon. He fully expects the justices might end up deciding the merits of the case not just procedural matters.

“It’s far from being over,” he said.

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