By J.D. Heyes
Traffic cameras have been a part of the urban scenery for years now, but in Elmwood Place – a suburb of Cincinnati – they are history. Finally.
In a recent court hearing, Judge Robert Ruehlman ordered them not only to be shut off but to be impounded – taken off the streets for good.
The ruling comes as a result of a contentious legal battle over the speed cameras. Both sides of the case were back before Ruehlman during a contempt hearing June 27, “where the judge ruled that Elmwood Place and the speed camera contractor Optotraffic were in contempt of court,” WLWT reported.
Ruehlman found in March that the speed cameras were unconstitutional, essentially then ordering them shut down, along with the speed ticket program. He also ruled that outstanding tickets issued as a result of the system did not have to be paid.
During the June 27 hearing, Ruehlman found that his order had been violated in a number of ways. First off, the cameras had been turned back on, though Elmwood Place Police Chief Bill Peskin said during the hearing that they were only used to collect traffic and speed data, not to collect license plate information or to issue new traffic tickets.
He also testified that people who had come to the station to pay tickets they had been issued were told that they didn’t have to. “Many people did show up, trying to pay their citation to us,” Peskin said, “and we told them that the program was to be suspended and they didn’t have to pay the citation.”
The thing is, tickets were never meant to be paid to the suburb – though some monies apparently were collected, with some going back to Elmwood Place, according to court testimony.
“The traffic camera company collected the citations, and apparently continued to collect money sent in after the judge’s March order,” WLWT reported. “There was testimony in court that some $48,000 was collected, with a percentage of that money passed on to the village per the speed camera contract.” Optotraffic did not have a representative in court Thursday.
Mike Allen, an attorney who is part of a legal team fighting against the speed cameras, called them a “money grab.”
“This offends me as a citizen, it offends me as a lawyer, it offends me on behalf of my clients,” Allen said, according to reports.
In order to ensure no further violations of his order occurred, the judge ordered the Hamilton County sheriff to impound the traffic cameras and all of the equipment that is part of the traffic program, and store it at the expense of Elmwood Place. The equipment is to be released when the $48,000 in improperly collected ticket fees is returned. Per WLWT:
Another victory in court for the lawyers fighting the cameras came when the topic moved to a class action lawsuit. The judge allowed the lawyers to move forward with a class action suit that Mike Allen says would involve anyone who was given a ticket by the speed cameras back to the first day of operations in Elmwood Place.
“We’re going to do everything in our power to get some money back in those people’s pockets because it’s just not right,” said Allen.
The report said the class-action suit may take some time to get through the courts. Hearings for it have already been set up, but they won’t happen for months. However, the Ohio House approved a ban on speed cameras earlier in the week, meaning the end is near for all speed cameras in the state.
“I think the days of speed cameras in the village of Elmwood and in the state of Ohio are numbered,” Allen said.