Lorain County Common Pleas Judge John Miraldi ruled last week that Camera didn’t have the legal standing to challenge the fee because he isn’t being directly impacted by the fee, which Camera contends is $100 higher than state law allows.
“In this case, Plaintiff is a private citizen attempting to restrain an official act. However, Plaintiff has failed to allege an injury which has resulted in damage to himself that is different in character from that sustained by the public generally,” Miraldi wrote. “Moreover, the filing fee at issue here is ultimately borne by Plaintiff’s client(s), not Plaintiff directly.”
In order to keep the lawsuit alive, Camera would have had to show that he was directly impacted by the higher fee.
Although Camera didn’t file a response to Lorain Law Director Pat Riley’s request to have the case thrown out, he has said previously that he loses money when he files expungement requests in Lorain Municipal Court because he charges a flat fee to clients seeking to have their record sealed.
The higher fee means he earns less money on expungement cases in Lorain Municipal Court, he has said.
The problem with finding an actual client to file a lawsuit, Camera said Wednesday, is that people looking to seal their criminal records want the information shielded from public view. Filing a lawsuit will keep evidence of their crimes in the public domain, even if their criminal case is sealed, he said.
Still, Camera said he’s hopeful that he’ll find someone willing to help him fight the battle over the fees.
“Eventually I’ll get a client who’s willing to do it,” he said.
Camera has said he complained to court officials about the fees, which he argues are limited to $50 under state law, but his concerns were never addressed. That prompted him to file the lawsuit.
Lorain Municipal Clerk of Courts Lori Maiorana has said the court’s judges, Thomas Elwell and Mark Mihok, put a court order in place setting the higher fees years ago.
Riley, who didn’t return a call seeking comment Wednesday, has said that he has issued an opinion on the legality of the higher fees but has declined to make it public because of the lawsuit. He also has said he didn’t examine Camera’s complaints before because there was no reason to do so without a lawsuit being filed.
Most courts in the county charge the $50 fee, with the exception of Lorain and Elyria municipal courts. Avon Lake Municipal Court Judge Darrel Bilancini had set expungement fees at $75, but lowered them to $50 after Camera filed his lawsuit.
Camera said court officials throughout the county continue to be confused about how high expungement fees can be and it would have been best to simply resolve the dispute through his lawsuit.
“I think it’s bad government because all it does is prolong the problem,” he said.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.