CINCINNATI — Keith Ledgerwood admits he has a lead foot.
Authorities say he also has a smooth tongue that has helped him talk police out of writing him speeding tickets and cite him instead for lesser violations that don’t affect his driver’s license or auto insurance.
Those two views collided 16 months ago when Ledgerwood was cited for speeding in one of the Cincinnati area’s most affluent cities, touching off a legal fight that has has seen his case dismissed three times, reinstated each time, become the subject of an appeal and now possibly headed to the Ohio Supreme Court – all over a $95 speeding ticket.
On one side is Ledgerwood, 29, an information technology consultant then of Springfield Township, now of Maineville. He believes he’s being harassed by a city that initially botched its case against him and now is doing all it can to stick it to him.
“This is a big miscarriage of process and justice,” Ledgerwood said. “Something crazy has happened here.”
On the other are Indian Hill prosecutors, administrators and police who say Ledgerwood shouldn’t be allowed to game the system. He should just pay his fine and stop seeking special treatment.
“He is a chronic speeder who has the uncanny ability to get out of speeding tickets,” Benjamin Yoder, the Indian Hill assistant law director, said. “Somebody is going to get hurt.”
Indian Hill police pulled Ledgerwood over late on the evening of Feb. 6, 2012.
While driving a black 2004 Acura four-door, Ledgerwood was cited for going 54 in a 35 mph zone. Ledgerwood immediately asked if the officer could cite him for something other than speeding because he had a good driving record, police said.
When the police officer ran Ledgerwood’s record, though, he saw that Ledgerwood has been cited for speeding seven times in Hamilton County since 2004 and that some of those charges had been reduced or dismissed. Ledgerwood was given the speeding ticket.
It was a $36 ticket, but when the $59 court costs were added, it rose to $95.
Ledgerwood went to Indian Hill Mayor’s Court on Feb. 27. Because the officer who gave him the ticket wasn’t in court, Indian Hill prosecutors asked for a continuance. If the witness isn’t in court, prosecutors can’t prove Ledgerwood was speeding. Ledgerwood knew the officer who gave him the ticket wasn’t there, so he refused to continue the case.It was transferred to Hamilton County Municipal Court and Ledgerwood left.
But Indian Hill prosecutors realized, after Ledgerwood left court, that the case would have to be dropped – and Ledgerwood would face no punishment – unless the case was before a judge within 30 days.
That meant the transfer to Municipal Court likely would have delayed his case beyond that 30 days and the charge would have been dismissed. So, after Ledgerwood left, prosecutors recalled the case and dismissed it themselves.
Then police appeared at Ledgerwood’s home and told him he could either waive the 30-day time limitation or show up in court the next day. When he refused to waive the limit, a special session of the Indian Hill Mayor’s Court was called the next day. The officer who gave him the ticket was there. Ledgerwood was found guilty of speeding and ordered to pay $95.
He appealed that verdict to Hamilton County Municipal Court, where Judge Cheryl Grant agreed to Ledgerwood’s request to dismiss the ticket because Indian Hill had already dismissed it. Indian Hill police, days later, showed up at Ledgerwood’s job and re-issued the same speeding ticket.
Ledgerwood took it to Municipal Court and Judge Grant again threw it out, agreeing with Ledgerwood that Indian Hill took longer than 30 days to bring his case to trial.
Upset Indian Hill prosecutors Don Crain and Yoder appealed that decision to the Cincinnati-based 1st District Court of Appeals and won. That court ruled the stop-and-start of the ticket and dismissal meant Indian Hill hadn’t violated the 30-day deadline.
Why would the affluent city fight so hard over a $95 ticket?
“We only have a very few of these appeals, and for purposes of public safety, we decided to appeal,” said Crain, the city’s law director. Indian Hill pays a private law firm $4,000 per month to serve as its prosecutors. Crain and Yoder work for that firm.
Crain said the appeal was made after consulting with Police Chief Chuck Schlie and City Manager Dina Minneci.
Ledgerwood insists the way Indian Hill has pursued the case is harassment. He suspects police aren’t happy the ticket has been thrown out twice.
“We feel obliged to support the officers,” Crain said, wondering why their decision to pursue the $95 ticket was being questioned. “What would your solution be? Just to let this guy off the hook again?”
Yes, another local Mayor’s Court judge said.
“The aggressiveness that (Indian Hill) is showing, this is not what you would normally see on a speeding ticket. This is just a speeding ticket,” said Massimino Ionna, who has served as the Arlington Heights Mayor’s Court judge for the last nine years. Ionna also is a former prosecutor and former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Magistrate.
“This is odd to see it pursued as far as it has,” Ionna added. “At some point in time, you’re losing money if you’re (Indian Hill). Over a $95 ticket. It just seems more than normal.”
Yoder said “30 to 40” hours have been spent prosecuting Ledgerwood’s case so far.
Ledgerwood admitted in his first Mayor’s Court appearance that he was speeding, Crain said, but now it’s far more important to Ledgerwood – and to Indian Hill, Ledgerwood said – than just a speeding ticket.
“They made it clear to me walking out of the courtroom that they were not going to let this go,” Ledgerwood said. “I feel like there’s something fundamentally wrong, trying to get around the rules. This is wrong. …I’m not trying to get out of a speeding ticket at this point.”
Ledgerwood has spent $2,600 defending himself in the case and expects to spend $4,000 more because he’s asked the Ohio Supreme Court to take the case.
The reissued speeding ticket has been assigned to another Municipal Court judge and is set to be in court Tuesday.