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Court rules in favor of city in records case

The Sixth District Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling in favor of the City of Northwood in a public records case involving photos generated by traffic cameras.

Edward Verhovec had appealed a decision by the Wood County Common Pleas Court in Dec. 2012 that granted the city’s motion request for summary judgment.

Verhovec had been hired as an investigator by Paul Cushion, an attorney, to submit requests to the city for all images from the six or so years the city had the camera program, whether the images resulted in enforcement actions or not.

The city claimed it complied with Verhovec’s request but on June 30, 2011 he filed with the common pleas court for a writ of mandamus to compel the city to provide the images.

At issue was the June 7, 2012 deposition of Thomas Cairl, the city police chief. Verhovec was dissatisfied with the chief’s testimony and preparation and in August Verhovec filed multiple motions to re-open the deposition/discovery process.

The common pleas court, in a two-sentence order, granted summary judgment in favor of the city.

Verhovec’s appeal contended the order denied him a “meaningful” day in court and his due process right to prepare an opposition to summary judgment by the city’s selection of an “unknowledgeable” designee (Cairl) and the refusal to produce documents.

The appeals court ruled Verhovec missed the deadline to challenge Cairl’s responses in the discovery hearing.

“Appellant could have certainly filed a motion to compel or a motion for continuance of discovery prior to the discovery deadline if he felt responses were inadequate or insufficient. Instead, appellant opted to file his discovery motions after the discovery deadline had passed,” the ruling says.

Also, after reviewing the chief’s deposition, the appeals court wrote it wasn’t convinced he was “unprepared.”

Verhovec’s agreement with the attorney Cushion called for him to also make similar public records requests at several other municipalities. In return, Verhovec would receive $4,000 each time he successfully prosecuted a request.

State law requires public records subject to a request to be prepared and made available for inspection to anyone at “all reasonable times during regular business hours,” the appeals court ruling says, and an improper disposition of the records can result in a claim for civil forfeiture. The law allows someone “aggrieved” by improper distribution to seek injunctive relief or a civil action to recover a forfeiture of $1,000 for each violation and attorney fees.

The appeals court ruled Verhovec didn’t meet the criteria for forfeiture.

“Appellant (Verhovec) admitted ….he had no interest in the content of the images and was simply interested in whether they existed or not,” the ruling says. “Further…appellant concedes that his only reason for interest in the records was to satisfy his contact with…Cushion so he could get paid.”

The appeals court also said his request was “unreasonable in scope” and such requests aren’t entitled to mandamus or forfeiture.

The city didn’t renew its contract with Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., of Arizona, which operated the automated photo speed and red light enforcement cameras at two intersections.

The city received a share of the revenue from traffic citations issued as a result of the cameras.

The issue of whether or not to renew the contract divided city council.

Supporters of the cameras said they were a deterrent to speeding and running red lights, and that revenue from the fines funded many safety improvement projects in the city.

Others came to view the cameras as little more than revenue generators for the city.

Jim Barton told The Press he didn’t support renewing the contract because the “rationale for the cameras has gone from safety to revenue.”

Dean Edwards agreed.

The cameras, he said at the time, are “looked at as a money maker for the city.”

Also, some motorists avoided the intersections, which in turn hurt businesses in the area, he said.

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