New Miami speed camera case ends - again

The Ohio Supreme Court will hear arguments in the $3.4 million New Miami speed camera case Wednesday.

Credit: NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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The Ohio Supreme Court will hear arguments in the $3.4 million New Miami speed camera case Wednesday.

Credit: NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

A few months ago, people thought the speed camera case in the Village of New Miami was finally over after eight years. But drivers who were ticketed took one last shot and asked for reconsideration, which the high court has now denied.

After the Ohio Supreme Court dismissed the case in February, the attorneys for about 33,000 ticketed drivers asked the Ohio Supreme Court to reconsider ending the $3.4 million lawsuit that has dragged on for years. The justices said they “improvidently” accepted the case, meaning they shouldn’t have taken it in the first place.

By a 4 -to-3 vote, the court on Tuesday refused to reconsider its dismissal of the case.

Josh Engel, one of the attorneys for the speeders told the Journal-News this is the end of the road.

“We are disappointed that, by one vote, the court declined to reach the merits of the claim that motorists were denied due process,” Engel said. “The people who paid under this unconstitutional scheme, in my view, deserved their day in court and a decision on the merits.”

ExploreNew Miami speed camera plaintiff didn’t want village financially ‘devastated’

New Miami’s attorney James Englert said, “it took too long to get here, but we’re very pleased that the ordinance was held to be lawful.”

“The village is glad this is finally put to rest. The Supreme Court didn’t rule on the merits, but held the appeal should not have been accepted since there are no administrative hearings anymore for these civil violations under the Ohio statute and so the appeal didn’t present any great public issues to be decided,” Englert said. “That leaves in place the ruling of the Twelfth District Court of Appeals which carefully analyzed the due process issue and found the New Miami hearings were constitutional. This is what the village claimed from the very beginning.”

The crux of the case was whether the village’s now defunct, unmanned speed camera program offered speeders due process, or whether it was unconstitutional and therefore about $3.4 million — including interest — should be repaid to thousands of drivers who were ticketed.

New Miami Mayor Stephanie Chandler said she inherited this problem and is glad it is finally over.

“We are relieved,” she said. “I don’t think the village could have survived that kind of financial blow.”

The process New Miami used was flawed, according to two Butler County Common Pleas court judges, because the camera program does not allow drivers to obtain discovery, subpoena witnesses, or question the people at Maryland-based OptoTraffic who calibrated the cameras and ran the program. The 12th District Court of Appeals decided it was fine, so the drivers took it to the Supreme Court.

The litigation has taken three visits to the 12th District and two previous visits to the Supreme Court, where jurisdiction was denied. New Miami challenged the lower court’s rulings on class action status twice and a sovereign immunity issue. Until Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Oster issued his final judgment, the village could not appeal the entire case.

The village doesn’t have to repay the ticketed drivers, but has had to pay Englert and others. Normally when a governmental body is sued, its insurance — minus the deductible — covers the cost. But the village has had to foot the bill that stood at $483,092 through February.

“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.”

The high court accepts about 6% of discretionary appeals annually and they took the case by a vote of 4-to-3 with Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and justices Patrick Fischer and R. Patrick DeWine dissenting. The court again voted 4-to-3 to dismiss the case, this time with O’Connor, Fischer and justices Sharon Kennedy and Melody Stewart in the majority writing, “This cause is dismissed as having been improvidently accepted.”

Justices DeWine, Michael Donnelly, and Jennifer Brunner wanted to reconsider the dismissal.

Part of the reason the justices dismissed the case is because the state legislature essentially settled the issue with new laws that make it virtually impossible for municipalities to deploy the speed catchers.

The village was forced to put the brakes on the program in the summer of 2019 when the state transportation bill passed that year, it reduced the amount of state financial aid local jurisdictions receive if they use speed cameras and added a new wrinkle mandating the courts handle speed camera citations as civil proceedings that include court fees and costs that would have exceeded what the village collected in fines.

The village sued the state over the new law and the case has been pending since March 2020. During a court hearing in that case New Miami Fiscal Officer Belinda Ricketts said it would cost the village an estimated $612,000 in court costs, and tickets only generate about $222,000.

Several other larger jurisdictions have also sued the state, including the city of Dayton. That case is on hold pending the outcome of an appeal the high court heard in February filed by Newburgh Heights and East Cleveland.

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