Investigator | East Cleveland cameras still ticket despite ban

Drivers continue to get tickets from speed cameras

EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Marian Steele says she's a law-abiding citizen, so it's hard for her to understand why East Cleveland isn't abiding by the new state law that bans traffic tickets generated from cameras.

"The law is the law," she said. "We have to obey the laws. Why shouldn't they have to obey the laws?"

East Cleveland is one of a few Ohio cities still issuing tickets from cameras. The struggling suburb has several mounted on poles near intersections along Euclid Avenue.

Fact is, East Cleveland really never stopped, even when the new state law went into effect in March. The city partners with a private firm that shares in the ticket revenue.

Toledo and Akron also issue tickets through the machines, but each city won temporary court injunctions to keep their cameras rolling. East Cleveland dismissed its own lawsuit and is instead relying on a decision by a Lucas County judge, who granted an injunction to the city of Toledo.

"Until there's been an opinion set forth by the Ohio Supreme Court, this is the law of the land," said Willa Hemmons, East Cleveland's law director, as she held up a copy of the Lucas County decision.

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"We waited to see what the law was going to be. Like with the death penalty. Nobody was executed until the U.S. Supreme Court corroborated the law."

She said the Lucas County judge's ruling trumps the Ohio law passed by legislators that now requires a police officer be present when a ticket is generated from a speed or red light camera.

Newburgh Heights, for example, has given cameras to officers, who now routinely photograph speeding cars travelling along Interstate 77. Tickets for speeding are mailed out about two weeks later. The city shares the revenue with a private contractor.

"I'm not ignoring the law. I'm following the law," Hemmons said.

Hemmons, however, admitted she was not aware of a higher court ruling this year in Montgomery County. That ruling upheld the new state law. Dayton and Springfield heeded the decision and has since taken down its cameras.

"I didn't know about that opinion," Hemmons said. "I haven't heard of that case. I'll certainly research it."

East Cleveland has yet to provide documents on how much money it has received through the camera ticket program. Hemmons, however, further defended her position by pointing to a vote years ago in which residents approved traffic cameras.

Steele is aware of the new law and that's one reason she said she was shocked to learn East Cleveland is not following the state ban. Her son was driving down Euclid Avenue last month on his way to pick her up from her job as a cook at Quicken Loans Arena when a camera caught him speeding.

"A couple of weeks went by and, boom, ticket," Steele said. "It's just not right. I think they're just hungry for money in East Cleveland. But I work hard for my money and I don't want to waste it on a camera [ticket]."

Akron attorney Warner Mendenhall, who has a long history of fighting the city of Akron over its use of cameras, said Hemmons is wrong to follow the Lucas County decision. He also says that she is leaving East Cleveland vulnerable for more financial hardship, if the law is upheld and the city is forced to refund money to those who paid the fines.

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"The law is what they made in Columbus, and I think these cities should follow the law," he said. "East Cleveland has a history of financial problems that I think are driving this very unfortunate decision."

Mendenhall said he recommends motorists ignore the tickets issued by the cameras in East Cleveland.

Hemmons conceded that those who ignore the tickets do not face any penalties. The tickets do not go on a driver's record, there is no possible jail time, and vehicles will not be towed. And while a collection agency may contact a car owner, the unpaid ticket cannot go on a person's credit report.

"No, we fight that tooth and nail," Hemmons said. "We told the collection company that's a no-no. It won't go on their credit report."

For now, the camera law is still being contested and defended by the Ohio Attorney General's Office. A spokesman says litigation is ongoing with Akron, Toledo, Dayton, Springfield and Columbus. East Cleveland appears to be the only city not engaged in litigation that continues to issue tickets.

The cities argue that "home rule" statutes supersede the new state law and that the ban is unconstitutional.

Mendenhall and Hemmons each expect the arguments to be eventually heard by the Ohio Supreme Court.


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