Battle over traffic cameras: Judge rules lawsuit filed by Cleveland suburbs can continue

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CLEVELAND - A judge ruled Friday a lawsuit filed by Cleveland suburbs can continue, as the battle over traffic cameras in Ohio took center stage in a Cuyahoga County courtroom.

The Village of Newburgh Heights sued the state of Ohio, arguing a new state law making traffic camera programs costlier is unconstitutional and a violation of home rule.

East Cleveland joined the lawsuit during a hearing before Judge Wanda Jones.

House Bill 62, which passed in July, reduces state funding to cities that use traffic cameras by the dollar amount generated by each city's camera program.

It also requires the civil cases be heard in a municipal court instead of a mayor's court, or administrative court, and mandates the municipality issuing the citation pay court fees up front.

"The purpose of doing that by the legislature is to make the whole program not profitable, so the villages and cities that want to do it will not exercise their home rule power to operate a traffic camera program," said attorney Michael Cicero, who is representing Newburgh Heights.

Attorneys representing the Ohio Attorney General, which filed a motion to dismiss the case, argued the law is within the legislature's authority.

"The village's theory seems to be that any statute establishing a court procedure is unconstitutional, but that's just not the law in Ohio," said attorney Halli Brownfield Watson.

In 2018, Newburgh Heights issued more than 41,000 traffic camera citations, handling the cases through its Mayor's Court. HB 62 shifts those cases to Garfield Heights Municipal Court.

Cicero argued that would more than double the municipal court's caseload and cost Newburgh Heights $2.4 million annually in filing fees, since each case would require a non-refundable $60 filing fee.

"It's a way to economically dis-incentivize and, with the local government fund withhold, punish chartered municipalities from exercising its home rule right," Cicero said.

While cities may not like the new law, Brownfield Watson argued that it's legal.

"If a city has a home rule claim anytime a state law affects them, cities are ultimately going to become super-legislators with the ability to veto state laws based on the impact they have on the city," she said.

Judge Jones denied the state's motion to dismiss the case, enabling it to move forward. She has yet to rule on a motion for preliminary injunction filed by Newburgh Heights to place the law on hold while the lawsuit is pending. Argument on the injunction is scheduled to continue Tuesday.

More stories on traffic cameras, here.

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