7/20/2016Ohio Judge Refuses To Garnish Speed Cameras From Scofflaw Town
County judge rejects attempt to garnish the speed cameras in New Miami, Ohio to secure repayment of illegally issued photo tickets.
New Miami, Ohio broke the law, but it will not have to face the sort of consequences that an ordinary motorist might face. Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael A. Oster Jr on Thursday rejected an attempt to use garnishment to force the village to repay the cash it collected under an unlawful speed camera program. Earlier this year, the Twelfth District Court of Appeals gave the class action lawsuit a green light to proceed, but Judge Oster was careful not to overstep his authority know the higher courts have taken an interest in the issue.
"This case is currently pending review before the Supreme Court of Ohio," Judge Oster wrote on Thursday. "While this court does not decide the full breadth of its potential jurisdiction, this court finds that a ruling on the particular and limited issue currently before it will not affect the Supreme Court's ability to affirm, reverse or modify the Twelfth District's decision if it so chooses to accept the case."
In 2013, a group of lawyers filed a class action lawsuit in the hopes of forcing New Miami to return the $1.8 million in cash it had taken from ticket recipients. The court ruled the program did indeed violate due process rights. In January, however, New Miami restarted automated ticketing using machines operated by Blue Line Solutions. This new entrant into the automated ticketing field is run by CEO Lori Hutchinson, who by day holds the job of principal at McMinn County Central High School in Tennessee. Those battling for refunds began to fear that the small village would claim it could not pay back the money it owed motorists, so in May they asked the judge to garnish the speed cameras.
"The increased spending of New Miami, combined with the removal of much of the revenue to an out-of-state corporation, has the effect of removing from New Miami's possession its only remaining substantial asset," attorney Michael K. Allen wrote. "I believe the defendant has been using the property [speed cameras] to pay operating expenses of the village of New Miami beyond revenue generated by traditional sources such as taxes. I believe that the property is not exempt from attachment or execution."
The city pointed out that state law only allows attachment of property when a defendant has absconded with the property with the intent to defraud creditors. Calling the charge "scandalous," New Miami's attorney demanded the fraud allegation be stricken from the record. Judge Oster did not do so, but he agreed that the law did not allow the seizure of speed cameras in this case.
"This court finds garnishment to be an extraordinary remedy under these circumstances, which should not be considered lightly," Judge Oster ruled. "The court has considered the facts presented by both parties and finds there to be no evidence of an intent to defraud by the village of New Miami."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 250k PDF file at the source link below.