The Ohio Coalition for Open Government has asked Ohio’s Fifth District Court of Appeals to allow it to join a case to support two citizens in Liberty Township, Delaware County, who are in a battle for notes related to an investigation of the township’s former fire chief. Dennis Hetzel, OCOG’s president, said the case is particularly significant because the citizens, James Hurt and Mark Gerber, “had a 100 percent victory” in the Ohio Court of Claims.
The new Court of Claims process went into effect in 2016 with strong support of the ONMA. “For the first time, Ohio citizens have a way to appeal denials without the huge expense of hiring an attorney and initiating expensive litigation,” Hetzel said. “That’s what levels the playing field. It should be very difficult for the government to prevail when the full Court of Claims affirms rulings in cases that seem this clear.”
Hetzel said the township has refused to concede that an investigator’s notes that were used in the determination of the chief’s status are public records. “Once we saw that the Ohio Township Association and others were joining the township’s appeal, we felt it was particularly important for OCOG to support the two citizens, who are representing themselves,” Hetzel said. “Under the township’s logic, critical records could be kept secret by hiring a private person to do the government’s business.”
Attorneys Erin Rhinehart and Christopher Hollon of the Faruki law firm in Dayton are representing OCOG following the vote of the OCOG Board of Trustees to file the amicus brief supporting the citizens. The appeals court still must rule on whether to accept the OCOG brief, although it has accepted briefs in support of the township.
This Delaware Gazette story provides additional background on the case.
OCOG is a 501(c)3, non-profit corporation affiliated with the ONMA’s Ohio News Media Foundation.