ELYRIA — Lorain Law Director Pat Riley has asked a county judge to throw out a lawsuit filed by Lorain attorney Mike Camera challenging the $150 fee charged in Lorain Municipal Court to have a criminal case file sealed.
In court documents filed Friday, Riley wrote that Camera doesn’t have the legal right to sue the city over the issue as a member of the general public.
That argument was “insufficient to create a beneficial interest or a private right or benefit in an action to enforce performance (by) a public official of alleged statutory duties,” Riley wrote.
Camera has argued that Ohio law mandates a $50 fee to file for an expungement.
According to the law, $30 of that fee is supposed to go to the state treasury while the other $20 goes to either the county’s general fund or the city’s general fund if the case is in a municipal court.
But Lorain Clerk of Courts Lori Maiorana has said that Lorain Municipal Court judges Thomas Elwell and Mark Mihok raised the fee by court order several years ago to cover the cost of expungement cases.
Camera disagreed Tuesday with Riley’s argument that he doesn’t have standing to sue the courts if he believes they aren’t following the law.
He said he has a vested interest because he charges a flat $550 fee to clients seeking to have their criminal case files sealed. He said $50 of that is to cover the fee with the rest going to him.
If Lorain Municipal Court is overcharging people, Camera said, he is losing money and thus is directly impacted by the higher fee.
He also argued that it would be better for the legal system and the public to have the case move forward so the issue can be decided. He said it would defeat the purpose of sealing a case if one of his clients were to allow his name to be added to the lawsuit as a plaintiff.
“This is bad government,” Camera said. “Get an answer. Resolve the case on its merits.”
Camera said he previously complained to Lorain court officials about the problem, but got nowhere.
Riley said in June that he hadn’t reviewed the legality of the higher fee because Camera hadn’t filed a lawsuit over the issue. He said Tuesday that he now has looked at the law, but declined to discuss his findings because of the ongoing litigation.
While most courts in the county charge a straight $50 fee to seal a case, courts in Lorain, Avon Lake and Elyria charged higher fees.
Avon Lake Municipal Court Judge Darrel Bilancini said Tuesday that after Camera sued Lorain, he decided to drop the fee in his court from $75 to $50 even though he thinks the higher fee is legal to cover court expenses.
“It’s simply because I recognize there’s an issue,” Bilancini said. “If it’s determined that Mr. Camera is right and we’re not, we don’t want to be overcharging anyone.”