A case that tests how cities can use automated cameras to catch and fine those who speed and run red lights went before the Ohio Supreme Court today. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler explains the arguments.
The case comes from a ticket that Bradley Walker of Kentucky got from an automated traffic camera when driving through Toledo in 2009.
In 2011, he filed suit, claiming that the process by which he would appeal the ticket was unconstitutional, because the appeal didn't go to municipal court, which he claims has jurisdiction over traffic citations.
Cities typically send a camera ticket appeal to an administrative hearing rather than into the court system, since the violation is civil, not criminal.
And that’s appropriate under Ohio’s constitution, said Adam Loukx, who argued for the city of Toledo.
“A principal part of that constitution is the home rule authority of a city to self-govern," Loukx said. "And a principal part of self-government, we submit, is the ability to set up administrative appeal boards to have quasi-judicial hearings on matters of local controversy.”
Loukx said if all disputes ended up in the courts, they’d be overwhelmed – so cities have set up administrative panels such as civil service commissions, tax appeals boards, even taxicab commissions and dance hall review boards.
And he said anyone who wants to appeal a traffic camera ticket can do so after they pay the fine. And if they don’t like the hearing officer’s decision, they can take it to court – though he said that hasn’t happened often, and that information about the court option usually doesn’t accompany the ticket when it’s sent in the mail.
But Andrew Mayle, representing the cited driver Bradley Walker, argued that the administrative hearing process created by Toledo is unconstitutional because state lawmakers haven’t allowed it.
“The municipal court has jurisdiction unless the General Assembly says otherwise," Mayle said. "Toledo cannot self-create an exception.”
And Mayle said drivers who don’t want to pay the tickets while they appeal the violations could risk losing their cars because the law allows the city to act on those unpaid tickets as if they were debts.
After the arguments, the attorneys for the city of Toledo and the camera operating company declined comment.
But Maurice Thompson from the libertarian 1851 Center for Constitutional Law was talking. He helped Bradley Walker’s team, but for a bigger overall goal.
“As a nominal legal matter, winning this case for us does not shut down the camera programs," Thompson said. "What it means is that red-light camera tickets have to go through the municipal court. Now, as a pragmatic economic matter, what that means is that it’s no longer profitable and lucrative for cities to pursue those things.”
And the driver, Bradley Walker, was also there to see his case argued before the state’s highest court.
“Kind of surprised that it went like it did," Walker said. "I will tell you that, did I expect when we first started talking about what was there that we didn’t appear today? I can’t tell you that I'd ever believe that would be the case.”
A previous Ohio Supreme Court decision ruled cameras to catch speeders and red light runners are legal. It could be several months before a ruling on the hearing process, which Thompson says is used by the 15 Ohio communities that have traffic cameras.