Judge rules Elmwood must refund tickets if class action upheld

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A Hamilton County judge has ordered the Village of Elmwood Place to pay back $1.8 million in speeding ticket fines and fees it collected from traffic cameras.

Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman said Thursday that the village would not have to refund the money until its appeal in a class action-status for thousands of ticketed drivers is resolved. He said the village is also liable for attorney fees.

Ruehlman ordered the village to stop camera use and confiscated the speed cameras last year.

According to court documents, from September 12, 2012 through March 7, 2013, Elmwood Place has issued approximately 20,000 notices of liability under its Automated Speed Enforcement Program. Elmwood has collected more than $1.75 million in penalties and other fees through the program.

"This case screams out for class actions status" Mike Allen told FOX19 in October 2012. Allen is representing cited drivers. "We have by our estimates seven to ten thousand potential plaintiffs. They can't go and litigate these cases individually."

"You have thousands of tickets with different scenarios, different circumstances," countered Elmwood Attorney Judd Uhl. "These people don't have a common interest at all."

Judge Ruehlman ruled Thursday that the ordinance was unenforceable because the village did not give proper notice and it did not allow for motorists to dispute the ticket in court.

The corner of Oak and Vine Streets in Elmwood Place looks quite different these days. It was seven months ago a judge ordered controversial traffic cameras at that intersection torn down, and confiscated.

"My family didn't want to come around. My friends didn't want to come to visit me. I have a lot of family, and I have a lot of friends who've got tickets," said Holly Calhoun who lives and works nearby that intersection.

Frustrations have mounted for drivers making their way through Elmwood Place getting $105 tickets from the cameras. But, for at least one of the village's leaders, he's supported the traffic cameras since day one.

"For some reason people think that if they're speeding, they're not breaking the law. Actually, if you're going one mile over the speed limit, you're breaking the law," said Jerald Robertson, an Elmwood Place council member.

But, in the continuing battle over the cameras, Judge Robert Ruehlman decided drivers should get their money back, pending the resolution of a class-action status appeal.

"All I know is, we have a judgment from a competent and credible court that says, 'Village of Elmwood, pay these people back,'" who is representing drivers.

That's one of the problems.

FOX19 asked Robertson, "Does the village have the money to pay that back? If not, where are you guys going to get it?"

"No, we do not have the money to pay it back," replied Robertson.

Robertson said all the money went into the general fund and was spent on other things, and there isn't any set aside to pay for this. That's despite the village's attorney previously telling FOX19 that money was set aside.

"Where are you guys going to come up with the money," FOX19 asked Robertson.

"I haven't the slightest idea. It's going to be a disaster," he said.

Robertson told FOX19 he expected Thursday's decision, and is optimistic going forward.  He's confident they'll win during the appeal process.

Mike Allen says he hopes this will show the village it's in their best interest to settle the case.

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