CINCINNATI — An Ohio judge rebuffed an argument Thursday that traffic cameras make law enforcement more efficient, stating sharply that violating motorists’ rights isn’t the American way.

Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman cited authoritarian regimes such as Cuba and North Korea as expedient, while saying the U.S. democratic system “can be messy.”

“But it’s a nice mess to have,” Ruehlman said.

The Cincinnati-area village of Elmwood Place wants the judge, who in March ordered a halt to its camera use, to rule against motorists who are seeking nearly $1.8 million in refunds of speeding fines and fees. Attorneys for the motorists say Ruehlman should order the refunds without a trial, since he has already compared the speed cameras to a rigged card game.

Ruehlman said he will issue his decision Jan. 23.

Attorney Judd Uhl contended for Elmwood Place that camera enforcement can make the community safer by allowing police to focus on violent crimes and drugs and have more presence on the streets.

“Why not free them up to do something else?” Uhl said. “Don’t make them sit there in the cruisers.”

Attorneys for the motorists argued that the cameras violated constitutional rights to due process, giving drivers little chance to challenge the camera-generated citations. They also said the village didn’t give proper notice that the camera enforcement was starting, resulting in thousands of speeding citations within the first month in a village of 2,200 people.

Uhl said speeders rarely win challenges to tickets handed out by police, and that drivers can avoid tickets by going the speed limit.

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