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Traffic law 'turning point'? Ohio judge rules speed cameras violate rights

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Feb. 22, 2013: Shown here is a red-light camera in downtown Washington, D.C. (FoxNews.com)

Speed cameras just got ticketed. 

An Ohio judge ruled Thursday that a Cincinnati-area community's speed cameras violate drivers' rights under the state constitution, in what attorneys on the case called a first-ever ruling against the ubiquitous enforcement tool. 

"To the best of my knowledge this is the first time in the country that this has happened," attorney Mike Allen, whose firm brought the case, told FoxNews.com. "This could be a major turning point for people that are aggrieved by these kind of things." 

There have been a handful of rulings in recent years against red-light cameras, but Allen said he believes this is a first for speed cameras. 

Hamilton County Judge Robert Ruehlman's emphatic and colorful decision was adorned with capital letters, bold print and exclamation points. In it, he said two speed cameras in the village of Elmwood Place, which were installed last year and caused considerable controversy in the community, violated drivers' "due process guarantees" under the Ohio Constitution. 

"Elmwood Place is engaged in nothing more than a high-tech game of 3 CARD MONTY," Ruehlman wrote. "It is a scam that the motorists can't win." 

He wrote in his opinion that even when drivers request a hearing to contest the $105 fines, "the hearing is nothing more than a sham!" The judge said any driver who comes in for a hearing will effectively have to argue against a written report "produced by the company that owns the speed monitoring unit." There is no ability to cross examine, Ruehlman wrote, while stressing the financial stake the company has in the tickets. 

A call to the main office for Elmwood Place was not returned, but Allen said he expects the village to appeal. 

Village officials first approved the speed cameras last July, and they were installed in September. The system has since issued thousands of $105 tickets -- the company controlling the cameras gets 40 percent of the revenue, while the rest goes to the village. 

As with speed cameras in towns and cities across the country, residents complained that they were just a money-making scheme for the local government. Further, businesses complained that people were avoiding the area -- and they were losing customers -- because the drivers didn't want to be ticketed. 

Interviewed last year, Elmwood Place Police Chief William Peskin told FOX19 that the cameras were installed for public safety. 

"I don't have the manpower to do that. I simply don't," Peskin said of traffic enforcement. "These cameras allow me to address other public safety needs." 

The decision comes as other jurisdictions weigh whether to keep enforcement cameras. In Florida, lawmakers are considering whether to scrap the state's red-light cameras, just two years after they were legalized.