NEW MIAMI, Ohio (FOX19) - The Butler County village of New Miami does not have to refund motorists $3.4 million in speeding tickets from their traffic cameras, according to a new decision from the 12th District Court of Appeals.
More than 30,000 motorists ticketed for speeding sued the village years ago, alleging the unmanned speed camera program was unconstitutional.
Their suit sought refunds of about $3 million on the $95 tickets and contended the program violated their rights because an administrative hearing instead of court proceeding was used.
Back in March 2014, a Butler County Common Pleas Court judge agreed and declared the program unlawful and another county common pleas judge affirmed that ruling and ordered New Miami to repay the tickets and $400,000 in interest.
Now, however, appeals court says the program was constitutional and those judges were wrong.
Appeals Court Judges Robin Piper, who served Butler County’s prosecutor from 2001 to 2011, says that while he agrees with the opinion, he still has concerns about the traffic camera program.
“Thankfully, the legislature has responded to correct such ordinances as the one New Miami’s council enacted. The trial Butler court’s concern for due process is quite understandable. It is disingenuous to say that government interest is predominant when it is a private enterprise that creates the system, manages the system, and then commercially reaps huge profits from a minimalistic civil process," Piper wrote.
He also noted: “The owner of a vehicle is financially coerced into paying the ‘liability.’ No reasonable person decides to miss work making several appearances only to then pay an appeal bond in order to have access to the legal evaluation and impartiality only the courts provide. The citizen is funneled into a process that financially coerces one into simply paying the fine. The potential cost in establishing one’s innocence becomes such a burden emotionally, timewise, and financially, a reasonable person has no choice but to pay up.”
Piper wrote that while he "wholeheartedly support(s) the use of technology to assist law enforcement in the performance of their responsibilities, however, the legal trend permitting private contractors to profit from the use of public roadways and traffic law enforcement is disturbing. However, with the record at hand and the law we are required to apply, I cannot find New Miami’s ordinance is constitutionally insufficient. Thus, I concur, with some disfavor, in our majority opinion.”
An attorney for the motorists who sued, Josh Engel, said: “We were surprised and disappointed - and sad for the motorists who had to pay.”
He said they have not made a final decision yet if they will appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court but "Judge Piper’s decision is a real strong invitation for the Ohio Supreme Court to take the case if we do.”