Speed Cameras Stir Ire in Ohio

STEUBENVILLE — It’s a big week of litigation for Traffipax Inc., the Columbia, Md., company providing traffic cameras to the city.

In Steubenville, Jefferson County Common Pleas Court Judge David Henderson will hold a hearing today to determine if Traffipax will be dismissed from a lawsuit brought against the city by attorney Gary Stern on behalf of his wife, April Stern.

While the lawsuit concerns the portable traffic cameras provided in the city, Traffipax claims the lawsuit is accusing the city of violating its own ordinance and, therefore, Traffipax shouldn’t be involved.

Henderson issued a preliminary injunction Dec. 5, stating the city violated its own ordinance.

City police officers removed the three portable cameras from operation after the ruling.

But Steubenville isn’t the only city where Traffipax’s cameras will be the center of attention in court this week. A hearing will be held Friday in Trumbull County, Ohio, Common Pleas Court concerning a lawsuit involving a portable traffic camera in Girard.

Due to the contractual agreement between Traffipax and Girard, Traffipax must pay for all of the legal expenses involved in the litigation. Steubenville officials could not be reached for comment on whether Traffipax has a similar agreement with the city.

Daniel Moadus Jr., a former member of Girard Council, brought the suit against the city and maintains that the traffic camera system undermines due process and that Girard acted illegally when it changed the status of red light running from a criminal violation, as established by the legislature, to a civil violation.

Gary Stern also claimed that the cameras violate due process laws because the only appeal those caught on camera have is with the very agency that issued the ticket.

Stern’s main argument, however, is that the city did not follow its own ordinance, which requires the city to publish the dates and locations of where the camera’s will be located 14 days prior to installation and to erect a conspicuous sign stating the location of the camera prior to the date enforcement begins.

Steubenville’s cameras have been offline since Dec. 5, when Henderson issued the preliminary injunction.

But Girard’s one camera has continued to do its job, despite being stolen and having to be replaced.

Traffipax claims the portable device has security features to keep it from being tampered with, including an alarm that should sound when disturbed, a global positioning satellite system within it to track it if it is moved and a pager that automatically pages the police department the moment it moves more than a foot.

The camera in Girard was replaced after it was stolen because none of the safety devices worked properly.

Jerry Lambert, Girard’s safety services director, said the city first decided to use the portable camera because the city is in a fiscal emergency and had to ‘‘drastically reduce’’ its police force.

Lambert said that and the fact that Girard widened the road running through town and eliminated some red lights along it led to the decision of the cameras.

In recent days, Lambert said some of the council members who voted for the camera now have decided to rid the city of the device.

The Girard council members voted unanimously on Jan. 9 to rescind the ordinance that allows the camera. The legislation needed to rescind the ordinance will take three readings before it can be approved.

There are other differences between Girard’s and Steubenville’s traffic camera contracts.

In Steubenville, Traffipax’s contract states the company will provide and maintain the portable and fixed intersection traffic cameras free of charge.

In exchange, the company will receive $38 for each of the first 10,500 $85 tickets. After that, Traffipax will get $22 per ticket.

In Girard, Traffipax’s deal with the city states that the company will receive $25 of the $85 tickets, and there is no limit indicating a change in the split.

Also, the camera in Girard has produced more than $85,000 since beginning operation Aug. 8. Steubenville’s three cameras, the first of which began operation on Sept. 28, produced approximately $231,455 before the injunction was issued.

The hearing on whether Steubenville’s traffic camera program will continue in its present form has been rescheduled to be held at 9 a.m. March 9 in Henderson’s courtroom.