CINCINNATI (AP) -- A southwest Ohio judge on Thursday ordered a halt to a speeding ticket blitz in a village that installed traffic cameras, saying it's "a scam" against motorists.
Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman blasted the cameras and the thousands of $105 citations that resulted. He ruled that they violate motorists' constitutional rights to due process and said the village's enforcement was stacked against drivers.
"Elmwood Place is engaged in nothing more than a high-tech game of 3-Card Monty," Ruehlman wrote, referring to a card game used by con artists. "It is a scam that motorists can't win."
The village began using the cameras in September, resulting in some 6,600 speeding citations in the first month, triple the number of village residents. Revenues that are shared with the company that operates the cameras quickly topped $1 million.
Such cameras are used in municipalities around the country, and have been upheld in other courts.
But business owners and motorists charged in their lawsuit here against the village that the cameras were hurting Elmwood Place's image and businesses, and said they were put into use without following Ohio law for public notice on new ordinances. They also said it's unconstitutionally difficult to challenge the citations, and Ruehlman agreed in granting a permanent injunction against enforcement of the village ordinance that created an "automated speed enforcement program."
Village Police Chief William Peskin said Elmwood Place will appeal the ruling. But in the meantime, it is halting use of the cameras.
"We will shut 'em off," he said. "It's a minor setback. We will be back in appeals court."
Police say up to 18,000 vehicles a day drive through the village, which links some big employers with Interstate 75. Peskin said there were four cameras total, although only two were in use at a time. One was at village limits where speed drops from 35 mph to 25 mph; another was in a school zone. He said speeding had dropped "drastically" in the village with the cameras.
"It's unfortunate that the judge doesn't see it as a safety issue," Peskin said.
The village argued that that camera enforcement by other municipalities has been upheld in other state courts, including in Ohio's Supreme Court.
The Lanham-Md.-based company Optotraffic installed the Elmwood Place cameras and administered their use, in return for 40 percent of ticket revenue. The company is one of several U.S. firms in the camera business. Optotraffic has said several other southwest Ohio municipalities have been awaiting the outcome of the Elmwood Place case before deciding on cameras.
An Optotraffic spokesman said he hadn't seen the decision.
"It would be inappropriate to comment on the judge's ruling, except to say that certainly has not been the opinion of courts around the country," spokesman Tim Ayers said.
Attorney Mike Allen said the plaintiffs were "very gratified" by the ruling, which he called "a victory for the common people." He said people who were unemployed, working poor, and single mothers were hit with $105 citations they couldn't afford, and he said Ruehlman's decision could spur more legal challenges and state legislation against traffic cameras.
"This is the first time that a judge has said 'Enough is enough,'" Allen said. "I think this nationally is a turning point."
The plaintiffs said $1.5 million in fines were assessed within the first few months of camera use.
The economically struggling village has only a full-time police chief, helped by auxiliary officers. Peskin has said there wasn't enough police staffing available to handle the speeding problems.
The village had said in its legal response to the lawsuit that "in the end, all a person has to do to avoid receiving a notice of liability from Elmwood is to obey the posted speed limit."
But the slew of citations led to petition drives, a Facebook page calling for a boycott of the village, and a councilman's call on the mayor to step down.
Business owners say customers who got citations said they would shop elsewhere, and the pastor of a Vietnamese congregation said about a third of his church's members have stayed away after more than half got speeding citations.
Ruehlman agreed that individuals and businesses have suffered damages because of the ticket blitz. He also blasted as "a sham" appeal hearings motorists can ask for by paying $25.
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