Thursday, December 18, 2014

Toledo can continue using red light cameras with existing civil penalty process, rules Ohio Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Ohio issued an opinion today that upholds Toledo's system of penalties for traffic violations caught by the city's red light traffic cameras. According to the opinion, in 2008 Toledo enacted a municipal code provision that permitted their traffic camera system to assess civil penalties on drivers who are caught speeding or running red lights. The system consists of both a sensor and a camera that records these violations of the law. The city then sends a notice to the owner of the vehicle that he or she is liable for the traffic violation and that a fine of $120 has been assessed against him or her. This is a civil citation, not criminal, and carries no criminal penalties. The owner can either pay the penalty, or contest it in an administrative hearing with the city. The owner can then appeal the decision of the administrative hearing officer to the common pleas court under existing Ohio law.

At issue in the case is whether Toledo's civil penalty system for these traffic violations set forth in the Municipal Code violates the Ohio Constitution or Ohio laws because it divests the municipal courts of their jurisdiction to handle these issues. The Sixth District Court of Appeals found that the municipal code provisions violated Article IV, Section 1 of the Ohio Constitution, which vests judicial powers in the courts and O.R.C. 1901.20, which gives municipal courts jurisdiction over violations of municipal ordinances. Toledo appealed the decision.

The Ohio Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision penned by Justice Sharon Kennedy, found that the provisions of Toledo's Municipal Code that set up this scheme of civil penalties for traffic violations did not violate the Constitution or laws of Ohio. The Court held that their previous decision in Mendenhall v. Akron was controlling, stating that "We have already held that municipalities act within their constitutional home-rule powers when they establish automated systems for imposing civil liability on traffic-law violators." In Mendenhall the Court had considered whether a municipality had the authority to create a similar system involving civil penalties for traffic violations under other provisions of the Ohio Constitution and found that this was permissible under home-rule authority because it served as a complementary penalty system and didn't decriminalize the behavior.

Justice Kennedy applied the Mendenhall reasoning to this case, writing, "As we made clear in Mendenhall, civil enforcement of municipal ordinances complements the work of the courts. It does not restrict it. Neither R.C. 1901.20 nor Ohio Constitution, Article IV, Section 1 undermines our analysis in Mendenhall." The Court also found that O.R.C. 1901.20 does not give municipal courts exclusive jurisdiction over violations of traffic ordinances, and that municipalities can conduct civil administrative proceedings regarding these violations under home-rule authority.

Justice O'Neill, writing for the dissent, argued that O.R.C. 1901.20 does give the municipal courts exclusive jurisdiction over city ordinances, and that Toledo's system of civil penalties impermissibly divests the courts of that jurisdiction. He asserted that this case was not about home-rule and that Mendenhall should not apply.

For more information about the case see this article from Court News Ohio.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Settlement agreement reached in rap video case against local schools, police

WCPO reports today that a settlement agreement has been reached in the federal lawsuit four African-American students filed against the Northwest Local School District and Colerain Township police earlier this year. The suit alleges that Northwest Local Schools and several officers from the Colerain Township Police Department violated the students' constitutional rights when they held, interrogated, and ultimately expelled them from school in April after an investigation undertaken by the district. The students claim that they were expelled for making rap videos off campus and during off hours from school. According to WCPO, school officials allege that it was the students' behavior, not the videos that got them expelled.

Some background for the case: After two gun-related incidents involving other Colerain High School students happened in late March and early April last year, parents allegedly complained about things they had seen on the social media sites of some African-American students. This prompted school officials to undertake "a multi-day investigation into online, outside-of-school activities of African-American students at Colerain High School," according to the lawsuit, filed by the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio. The investigation resulted in the questioning and expulsion of several students, including the four plaintiffs in the case, who were alleged to have been making gang signs in videos posted online. A WCPO article posted in September, 2014 provides greater detail about these events.

The suit alleges that the actions of the police and school were racially motivated, as other white students who had engaged in similar behaviors were not disciplined in the same way. The school district claims that students of other races were also suspended and expelled. A WCPO analysis of state data for 2012-2013 revealed significant disparities in discipline rates between black and white students in large suburban school districts such as Northwest Local, which had discipline rates at least three times higher for black students than white students in every school in the district.

The students sought $25,000 in damages as well as a declaration that the actions of the school district and police were unconstitutional, expungements of the disciplinary actions from the students' records and changes to the policies and practices of the school district and police. The terms of the settlement agreement are not known, but a Legal Aid press release states that it "...seeks to create a partnership between the parties to promote diversity respect at the school." Federal judge Timothy Black will conduct a hearing over the settlement today at 11am.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Many Ohio bills still need final action as end of term nears

The Columbus Dispatch has put together a list of bills that still need attention before the end of this lame-duck session. A few of the bills have already been passed by both the House and Senate and are now being sent to Governor Kasich for signature.  These include:

Ohio Senate Bill 342, which requires that a police officer be present at any intersection where traffic cameras are in use. Click for analysis.

Ohio House Bill 10, also known as the "Fiscal Integrity Act," which provides procedures to remove a fiscal officer who acts recklessly. Click for analysis.

Ohio Senate Bill 272, which designates February 21 as "Rascal Flatts Day." It also designates March as "Maple Syrup Products Month" and September as both "School Bullying Prevention Awareness Month" and "Parkinson's Disease Awareness Month." Click for analysis.

Other bills still need a vote in the House during their last session of the year tomorrow. These include:

Ohio House Bill 663, which mandates that the identities of manufacturers of execution drugs and other parties to the execution process in Ohio be kept confidential. Click for analysis.

Ohio Senate Bill 386, which provides regulations relating to consumer grade fireworks, including eliminating an existing law that requires people who purchase these fireworks to take them out of the state within 48 hours. Click for analysis.

Ohio Senate Bill 250, which shortens the adoption process in Ohio and makes changes to laws about notifying the father when a child is put up for adoption. It also allows adoptive parents to pay living expenses for the birth mother and increases the adoption tax credit. Click for analysis.

Ohio House Bill 131, which establishes consent requirements for children 16-17 and under 16 to use tanning facilities. It also makes requirements regarding what a mammography facility must tell a patient whose scan shows dense breast tissue. Click for analysis.

Ohio House Bill 178, which sets rules for school safety drills and requires the State Board of Ed. to establish a policy and standards on behavior intervention and the use of physical restraint and seclusion on children in Ohio schools. This would also require charter schools and STEM schools to comply with these rules. Click for analysis.

Ohio House Bill 247, which changes existing law to allow anyone to use automated external defibrillation and provides civil and criminal immunity to those who do, as long as they have acted in good faith. Click for analysis.

Ohio House Bill 290, which allows courts to set up temporary facilities for courts to function during disasters or other extraordinary circumstances, and limits claims related to medical, nursing or personal care provided in a home. Click for analysis.