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SPEED CAMERA UPDATE: Watchdog may oversee New Miami’s finances

One day after the Ohio Supreme Court denied review of the New Miami speed camera case, drivers owed a collective $3 million asked that a financial watchdog be appointed to oversee the nearly insolvent village’s spending.

FIRST REPORT: Village’s speed camera appeal denied by Ohio Supreme Court

Lawyers for the estimated 33,000 speeders filed a motion today asking Butler County Judge Michael Oster to make sure the village doesn’t spend all its money to avoid a judgment.

“(New) Miami has made no effort to establish reserves to pay the anticipated judgment, even though, as the court is aware from previous motions, New Miami has contracted with a new automated speed enforcement company and has a new stream of revenue,” plaintiff’s attorney Josh Engel wrote in the motion.

The financial watchdog “can oversee the village’s spending to assure that the assets from this new stream of revenue are not dissipated and remain available to satisfy the anticipated judgment,” according to the motion.

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As of the end of January — village officials did not respond Thursday to requests for updated figures — New Miami had collected $756,588 under its new speed camera program. The village instituted a new program after the former one was declared unconstitutional in 2014.

New Miami’s attorney James Englert, calling the motion “absurd” and said the speeders’ attorneys are basing their request on a 2014 Journal-News investigation that revealed New Miami officials spent hundreds of thousands of dollars upgrading village cars, giving raises to employees and paying out-of-pocket health insurance expenses for employees using money from the now obsolete speed camera ticketing system.

HERE’S THE 2014 INVESTIGATION: New Miami revved up spending with speed camera cash

“It happens all the time that there are judgments that cannot be satisfied,” Englert said. “If they want to do this they’ve got to get the records, they’ve got to look at them and find out if there is something there. They’re just wasting our time with this.”

The Journal-News analysis of village documentsfound that leaders spent about $430,000 more from 2012 to 2013. The village then cut $825,000 from its budget in 2014, the year its speed camera program was found unconstitutional.

Governments are generally immune from lawsuits seeking damages, because big judgments could bankrupt them. Englert has previously said the village doesn’t have anywhere close to $3 million — around $3.5 million with interest — to pay the speeders.

“It’s clear the village does not have $3.4 million, it’s just absolutely clear,” Englert said previously. “It can’t pay that, it would mean the village would go into bankruptcy. And plaintiffs may do something crazy like hold the village in contempt for not paying $3.4 million, which it doesn’t have at this time. There’s a lot of absurdity in all this.”

This is not the first time the speeders have tried to control the village’s finances. In 2016 the speeders’s attorneys asked Judge Michael Oster twice to garnish revenues from the village’s new speed camera program.

New Miami contracted with Blue Line Solutions of Athens, Tenn., in January 2016 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 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.

The judge said no the first time, concluding fraud wasn’t an element in this business deal. The lawyers came back a second time claiming the village misrepresented the funds they actually have. Everyone including Oster agreed to drop the second garnishment request.

Engel said the current request to appoint a receiver — or financial watchdog — is appropriate and different from their garnishment request.

“The relief is different — a receiver can be appointed over all of the assets of the village — not just the specific stream of revenue from the new speed camera program — for the express purpose of assuring that there are sufficient assets,” Engel said. “There is no need to show fraud, only that the village could become insolvent.”

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