Most who appear at speed camera hearings have fines dropped

A Butler County judge ruled the village of New Miami’s administrative hearings held for people protesting speed camera citations didn’t adequately provide due process. But a Journal-News analysis of hearing records found those who showed up for the proceedings stood a good chance of not having to pay up.

In the 15 months of operation, 2,967 people who received citations from the village’s mobile speed cameras requested hearings. Of those, 852 people appeared at a hearing with 177 of them being found liable by the magistrate, according to village records obtained by this newspaper.

A total of 44,993 liability citations were issued, and of those, 764 were mailed as warnings when the devices were newly installed. An estimated $1 million in revenue has gone into the village’s general fund from the $95 fines collected.

The cameras that were the target of a class-action lawsuit are no longer stationed at the village limits on U.S. 127. They were turned off Feb. 25, minutes after common pleas Judge Michael Sage handed down his decision.

Attorney Wilson Weisenfelder Jr., who represents New Miami in the civil suit, said they will appeal the decision to the 12th District Court of Appeals. Village officials have been advised by Weisenfelder not to comment about the camera situation while the court case is pending

“The numbers (of liability citations) is not what is driving this case,” Weisenfelder said, noting the supreme court has already said municipalities have the right to use the cameras.

He said due process in administrative hearings is the question, and New Miami did afford those cited due process in hearings held at the village.

“The cameras are a more efficient system.,” Weisenfelder said. “We are in the tech age; why not put that technology to use and free up police officers for more important duties?”

But they are still a hot topic in other Butler County communities that have automated traffic control devices.

The Hamilton Police Department employed a speed-enforcement van in April 2010. The vehicle is actually an unmarked SUV that is placed at locations throughout the city, usually around schools and parks where speed is a problem, according to Sgt. Ed Buns.

In July 2010, the city began issuing $95 citations. The final revenue tally for 2013 is not yet known but 3,012 citations were issued last year, according to Buns.

Attorney and Middletown Municipal Court magistrate Joe Newlin was hired by the city of Hamilton to preside over the administrative hearings for speed camera violators. He also does the same in Middletown, where the civil citations are issued from red-light cameras.

On March 4, five people showed up for a 6 p.m. hearing inside the Hamilton City Council chambers. Three of them were given a “pass” on fines after pleading their case.

One man said he was out of town when the citation was issued to his truck that was traveling 66 mph in a 50 mph zone on Bypass Ohio 4. He suspected one of his children was behind the wheel. A woman was traveling 30 mph in a school zone, rushing from one job to another; and a man in a company vehicle said he sets his cruise control to make sure he doesn’t get a ticket, but he was unaware of the 50 mph zone on the bypass.

Two men, who had heard about the fate of New Miami’s speed cameras, said their citations were unconstitutional.

“I want this taken over to municipal court, this is a traffic violation,” said West Chester Twp. resident Douglas Johnson. “This is unconstitutional.”

Newlin explained the ruling was for the village of New Miami only. He also explained the liability citation is not a criminal matter and likewise, does not get reported to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, increase insurance or add points to a driver’s license.

Johnson said he plans to appeal the citation and sue Hamilton to initiate a class-action lawsuit.

Newlin warns people who get a pass, usually those just going a few miles over the trigger limit, that if they return he will have the knowledge that they have been cited before.

Hamilton citations are reviewed by a police officer who signs the citation before it is mailed. Those who attend a hearing also have a chance to see a video of their vehicle as it passes the speed van and are provided with information that the radar calibration is checked before and after the van is placed in a location.

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