From The Telegraph-Forum More often than not, the Ohio Supreme Court rules against people requesting public records from government officials.
The Ohio Coalition for Open Government recently found the court ruled against records requests and open meetings 20 times — 62.5 percent of the 32 cases reviewed between July 2010 and July 2015. Researchers did exclude some cases over the four years: ones from prisoners or others with no clear winner.
"The court most often ruled against the citizen or the journalist in favor of the government," said Dennis Hetzel, president of the open-government coalition. The nonprofit organization is associated with the Ohio Newspaper Association.
Among the current judges, Justice Terrence O’Donnell was most likely to deny access to records. He did so 77 percent of the time. Justice Judith French was the justice most likely to vote in favor of parties seeking access, voting against access 60 percent of the time, according to the research. Both are Republicans.
But Ohio Supreme Court officials said they are limited by the laws that legislators pass. If lawmakers say medical records aren't public, the court must agree. Also, the cases that reach the Ohio Supreme Court are often the most complicated or unclear.
"(T)o the extent that the analysis is meant to portray the Court as opposing open government, it is not fair," according to a statement from the Ohio Supreme Court.
Among the cases reviewed were several from the Cincinnati area. In 2013, the court withheld records from a man seeking rents charged at Findlay Market, saying they were trade secrets and did not need to be disclosed. The court also rejected the (Cincinnati) Enquirer's request for the names of two Cincinnati police officers injured in a 2010 motorcycle gang shootout. A person seeking the addresses of retirees in the city's retirement system was also rejected.
In 2009, the Enquirer sued Cincinnati Public Schools, seeking copies of superintendent applications locked in a post office box. School officials later retrieved the applications and provided redacted copies to the Enquirer. However, the Ohio Supreme Court found that the Enquirer wasn't entitled to attorneys fees for the trouble.
But the Ohio Supreme Court did award attorney fees and $1,000 to the Enquirer in 2015. That was after Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser withheld 911 recordings in a 2012 murder. The court also ruled in favor of the Enquirer in 2014, unsealing records related to a Miami University student who posted an offensive flier about rape.
In Richland County, the state supreme court ruled against a person seeking records from municipal and common pleas court clerks, saying the clerks didn't have to produce records they didn't have.
Hetzel said the four-year review is a starting point to evaluate how judges fare on public records questions and how some laws favor government officials over citizens seeking records.
"A lot of the issues involve statutes that could use some improvement," Hetzel said.