Cleveland faces a possible avalanche of court challenges to tickets issued by the city’s controversial traffic cameras after a lawyer won an unprecedented court ruling Thursday.
Beachwood lawyer Blake Dickson discovered a loophole in a city ordinance that he believes — and the 8th Ohio District Court of Appeals agrees — shields drivers of leased or rented cars from exposure to the infuriating cameras.
Without quick action by Cleveland to plug the loophole, drivers of leased or rented cars could use the court ruling to fight camera-issued tickets at City Hall, Dickson said.
And previously ticketed drivers also could pursue a class-action lawsuit.
Drivers who own their cars and believe they are victims of a double standard could choose to file bias claims in court, Dickson said.
Cleveland began using the traffic cameras in late 2005 to increase safety and raise money. Unlike tickets issued by police officers, which are criminal violations, camera-issued tickets are civil infractions and are contested at a hearing at the Parking Violations Bureau.
The city’s 41 stationary and mobile cameras have issued more than 108,000 tickets over the most recent 12-month reporting period, or about one every five minutes. That adds up to at least $10.8 million in fines.
Dickson called the city’s camera ordinance unfair and blamed the use of the automated devices for driving thousands of people out of downtown.
“Will the city of Cleveland abide by this ruling, change the code and close this loophole? They should – the law is so ridiculous,” Dickson said.
In siding with Dickson, the appellate court agreed that the city law requires camera-issued tickets to be paid by the owners of cars. But the law does not address how to ticket cars that are leased or rented.
Dickson was the first to successfully exploit the loophole after traffic cameras issued two speeding tickets to an Audi leased by his firm, Dickson and Campbell, in 2007. Rather than paying the two $100 tickets, he fought the case on principle through three courts at an estimated cost to the firm of more than $11,000.
Appellate Judge Mary Jane Boyle wrote the opinion, reversing a ruling by Common Pleas Judge Eileen T. Gallagher, who found in favor of the city in 2007. Judge Melody Stewart concurred; Judge Colleen Conway Cooney dissented.
Boyle said in a telephone interview that Cleveland could easily fix its faulty ordinance by copying the wording of a similar ordinance in Akron, which applies camera traffic laws equally to vehicles that are leased and owned.
Cleveland Law Director Robert Triozzi said he will ask the City Council to consider an amendment.
Until that happens, however, Dickson said Cleveland could become overwhelmed by drivers who choose to fight the camera fines, believing they were unfairly ticketed.
But first, they would have to work their way through the city’s multilayered appeals process, and pay $225 in fees, Dickson said.
Triozzi said the ruling will have no impact on prior cases because the drivers of leased or rented cars would have had to challenge the law at the time the ticket was issued.
Boyle recommended against using the court’s ruling to challenge tickets.
“I was writing on this specific occurrence,” she said. “I was speaking to the evidence that was presented in these proceedings, so it may not be applicable in other cases.”