With legal bills nearing $100,000, the two sides in the New Miami speed camera case have, for the first time, scheduled a settlement conference.
Since a complaint filed three years ago by two Butler County women and two Cincinnati residents, the village has incurred $98,575 in legal expenses.
Typically when a governmental body is sued their insurance company handles and pays for the litigation, but the Butler County village has been paying its legal costs in this lawsuit because they determined their insurance company wouldn’t cover it.
“This is a question of law, this is about whether or not legislation we passed was constitutional,” New Miami Village Solicitor Dennis Adams told the Journal-News previously. “If it was a civil rights case for example our insurance company would have provided coverage, absolutely. But I don’t think we even submitted it to our insurance company and requested coverage. Because I believe we reviewed the policy and understood there was no coverage.”
New Miami’s former speed program was deemed unconstitutional in 2014, when a Butler County judge 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.
For the first time the two sides are scheduled to meet with former common pleas judge and 12th District Court of Appeals Judge H.J. Bressler on Oct. 18 to talk settlement.
One of the plaintiff’s attorneys Josh Engel said they are ready to negotiate but declined to say more.
“Settlement negotiations are always ongoing and delicate, so I don’t want to get into specifics,” he said “But our goal remains the same, the return of money to motorists who paid fines under the unconstitutional scheme.”
The operative amount in this case has always been $1.8 million but earlier this month attorneys for the speeders asked the judge to award them the $3 million they paid.
The village contracted with Optotraffic to run the previous speed camera program and for that service the Maryland traffic camera people were paid $1.2 million or 40 percent of the total fine collection amount of $3 million.
Harold Person, a trucker who was recently nabbed by the speed camera, was hoping he could join the class action. He is furious about the $95 ticket.
“It’s in the letter just send us your money,” he said. “It’s like what a scam. That’s ridiculous, I didn’t think it was even allowed in Ohio anymore. You got the right to meet your accuser, right. It’s totally bogus.”
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.
The new program — which has yielded $203,335 3,298 in paid tickets as of July — has not been challenged in court so Person has no class action to join.
The village’s litigation attorney James Englert said the Judge Michael A. Oster Jr. scheduled the mediation hearing and since the case has dragged on so long and is still really only in the beginning stages — with no rulings yet on substantive issues — it’s time for the two sides to talk.
“I think both sides want to go along with Judge Oster’s order and see if it can be resolved,” he said. “Both sides just have to be aware of the risks that are still out there.”
The case has twice gone to the 12th District Court of Appeals and the village tried to get the Ohio Supreme Court to hear arguments on the class action, to no avail.