OGOC joins amicus brief arguing opioid data should be disclosed in public health lawsuit

Editor’s note: The Ohio Coalition for Open Government has joined this amicus brief arguing that the opioid data should be disclosed.

From the RCFP

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a coalition of 36 media organizations are supporting HD Media and The Washington Post’s fight for the release of key data related to the ongoing opioid crisis.

Approximately 1,300 mostly governmental bodies have sued pharmaceutical companies for their involvement in the opioid epidemic — the deadliest drug crisis in U.S. history. This case could result in billions of dollars in payouts and could impact the lives of millions of Americans. As part of the case, the Drug Enforcement Administration produced information in discovery about the number of opiate doses sold in each county by pharmaceutical companies from 2006-2014. HD Media and The Washington Post have sought release of this data, which was provided to the state and local government plaintiffs in the case, under state public records laws. However, a district court order has barred its release, citing a protective order in the litigation. The media coalition is urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to reverse the district court’s ruling that would prevent the data’s release.

Previously, a West Virginia court ordered the release of much of the DEA’s information on the number of opiate doses sold in that state. As a result, it became clear this type of data was important for the public to have access to, the coalition argued in a friend-of-the-court brief filed November 13, 2018. The data "illuminates the depth and magnitude of the prescription drug crisis; indeed, if the West Virginia data is any indication, this data could show a dramatic increase in opioid prescriptions [from 2006-2014]," the coalition writes.  

The information also could shed light on the government’s failure to adequately address the opioid epidemic, the coalition explains, and its release would give the public the necessary information to hold those in elected offices accountable.

In addition, a lack of access to the data might result in less confidence in judicial processes. In the brief, the coalition explains that the Supreme Court has recognized secrecy breeds distrust of the judicial system and its ability to adjudicate matters fairly. It also "insulates the participants, mask[s] impropriety, obscur[es] incompetence and conceal[s] corruption."

The Sixth Circuit and other courts have repeatedly recognized that public interest cannot be discounted when protective orders are issued, especially in matters involving the government and public health. Past legal decisions have also held that court documents produced to parties under protective orders can’t be automatically sealed when they are filed in court — once a document is filed with a court, it cannot be sealed unless the common law and First Amendment presumptions of access are overcome.

"In short, a protective order does not justify sealing 'from public view materials that the parties have chosen to place in the court record,'" the coalition notes.

Read the full brief here.

Kent State to pay at least $179K for presidential search, contract details 'trade secrets' claim from search firm

From KentWired.com

Kent State will pay Russell Reynolds Associates, the executive search firm chosen to find the university’s next president, a $170,000 retainer for its services, plus a $9,000 administrative fee.

The total cost for the search, laid out in a contract between the two parties, will probably be more, and will equal one-third of the new president’s first-year total cash compensation, including their salary and any other “monetary inducements” accepted as part of the hiring negotiations. The $179,000 paid at the beginning of the search to Russell Reynolds will be credited against the total fee. (See the full contract below this story.)

The university’s search for President Beverly Warren in 2013 cost Kent State more than $250,000.

The contract also states Russell Reynolds considers its “processes, procedures, database, portal, candidate and search-related documentation and personal data, and all internal electronic and written correspondence to be confidential, proprietary information, and trade secrets.”

Among other terms and conditions, the university agreed to provide the firm an opportunity to deny any public records requests regarding the presidential search. If the firm claims trade secrets, the contract says Russell Reynolds will bear the burden of proving it.

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Purdue’s secret OxyContin papers should be released, appeals court rules

From Stat News

Kentucky appeals court on Friday upheld a judge’s ruling ordering the release of secret records about Purdue Pharma’s marketing of the powerful prescription opioid OxyContin, which has been blamed for helping to seed today’s opioid addiction epidemic.

The records under seal include a deposition of Richard Sackler, a former president of Purdue and a member of the family that founded and controls the privately held Connecticut company. Other records include marketing strategies and internal emails about them; documents concerning internal analyses of clinical trials; settlement communications from an earlier criminal case regarding the marketing of OxyContin; and information regarding how sales representatives marketed the drug.

The unanimous opinion by a three-judge panel is a victory for STAT, which filed a motion more than two years ago to unseal the records — which were stored in a courthouse in a rural county hit hard by overdose deaths. STAT won a lower-court order in May 2016 to release the documents, but after Purdue appealed, the judge stayed that order.

“We’re tremendously encouraged by this ruling,” said Rick Berke, the executive editor of STAT. “More than two years after we filed this suit, the scourge of opioid addiction has grown worse, and the questions have grown about Purdue’s practices in marketing OxyContin. It is vital that that we all learn as much as possible about the culpability of Purdue, and the consequences of the company’s decisions on the health of Americans.”

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Editorial: Ohio bill to make public most police body camera records could become national model

Plain Dealer Editorial

Now awaiting Ohio Senate action is a significant measure that, with a few tweaks, could become a national model by making police body camera footage a public record. A limited number of exceptions would rest mostly on personal privacy grounds. Substitute House Bill 425 has attracted no opposition, although Dennis Hetzel, president of the Ohio News Media Association, has suggested modest changes that could be made via amendments on the Senate floor.

In June, Ohio's House voted 94-0 for HB 425. On Dec. 6, the Ohio Senate's Government Oversight and Reform committee reported out a substitute bill on a similarly unanimous 10-0 vote. State Rep. Niraj Antani, a Miamisburg Republican who is the bill's prime sponsor, said the Senate may vote on the bill today. 

The bipartisan bill's other prime sponsor is state Rep. Hearcel Craig, a Columbus Democrat. Co-sponsors include Democratic Reps. Stephanie Howse, of Cleveland; Kent Smith, of Euclid; and John Rogers, of Mentor on the Lake; and Republican Reps. Tom Patton, of Strongsville; and Steve Hambley, of Brunswick.

HB 425 "can be one of the nation's best laws involving body cameras," Hetzel said in Senate testimony last month -- although he urged lawmakers to reduce the list of 17 new exceptions the bill would add to state public-records law.

Hetzel also argued the bill should be restricted to body cameras until more testimony could be heard on the implications of a House amendment that added police dashboard camera footage to the bill.

"Case law around dash cam footage is well established," Hetzel said. The inclusion of dash cams in HB 425 was unnecessary, he added, "and deserves greater discussion."

The Ohio ACLU's Gary Daniels said the bill's exemptions focused laudably on personal privacy issues, and testified to the Senate that passing HB 425 "will not only be good for Ohio, it will establish our legislature as a national leader on the best ways for state legislators to provide assistance on the use of police body cameras."

Daniels did raise one concern, noting that additional legislation would still be needed to clarify when police body cameras had to be activated - or turned off.

Senators should consider floor amendments limiting HB 425 to body-camera footage until the implications of including police dashboard camera footage in the legislation can be more fully explored. Senators should also seek to reduce the number of exceptions the bill adds to Ohio's public records law.

Overall, however, HB 425 is an excellent bill - a bipartisan Statehouse consensus that should help assure Ohioans of law-enforcement accountability.

Read the Kent State University journalism faculty letter calling for more transparency in presidential search process

From Cleveland.com

A group of Kent State University journalism faculty are calling for transparency in the search to replace President Beverly Warren, arguing the current process violates the state’s open records law.

A statement Monday, signed by a group of about 14 faculty from Kent State’s school of communication and journalism, asks for the university to release information about the finalists, including relevant documents. When Warren was hired, the university kept the names of the finalists confidential and did not release search documents after she was named president.

Instead, the university had signed a contract which allowed the search firm conducting the process to decide which records were released, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. One member of the search committee told the newspaper that the university shredded his notes.

“Despite spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on the search, the first the university community learned of any candidate for the job was when the Board of Trustees announced President Beverly Warren had been hired,” faculty wrote in the statement. “Through no fault of her own, Warren started as president under a cloud of suspicion because of the secrecy surrounding her hiring.”

Read the full statement here>>

Clerk must produce court record, but faces no fine

From Ohio Court News

The Hamilton County Clerk of Courts must respond to one of three records requests a state prison inmate accused the clerk of failing to provide. However, the inmate is not entitled to financial damages from the office for the lack of response to the request, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

In a per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval must produce a document from Lionel Harris’ aggravated murder trial that occurred around January 1992 or inform Harris that the document does not exist. Harris maintained that Pureval never responded to his public records request and he was entitled to $1,000 in statutory damages.

The Court clarified that while Ohio’s public records act, R.C. 149.43, provides for damages when a public official does not respond to a records request, court records are governed by the Rules of Superintendence for the Courts of Ohio, which does not have a financial penalty provision.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine and Mary DeGenaro joined the majority opinion.

Justice Terrence O’Donnell dissented, stating he would affirm the judgment of the First District Court of Appeals, which dismissed the case.

Work of Montgomery County Jail oversight committee shielded from the public

From The Dayton Daily News

The work of a citizen committee created to review operations at the Montgomery County Jail has kept its work shielded from the public since August, cancelling public meetings and meeting privately in smaller groups.

Montgomery County commissioners created the Justice Advisory Committee in 2017 to provide a report including recommendations for improvements to jail operations and facilities. The committee hired CGL Companies of Lexington, Ky., to assess operations at the jail and report back to the group.

The committee hopes to present its final report to county commissioners by the end of the year.

Some of CGL’s findings became public during committee meetings held in July and August at the downtown Dayton Metro Library. In presentations made to the group, the consultants noted inadequate staffing and poor facility design, and said changes were needed in some operational policies, including when and how to use force or put an inmate in a restraint chair.

But the co-chairs of the committee, Rabbi Bernard Barsky and Dr. Gary LeRoy, said they became frustrated by news reports following those meetings, saying the information presented by CGL consultants — while critical of some jail operations and policies — was not a finished study.

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Enquirer editorial: Open government issues surrounding city council texts are not trivial

Editorial from The Cincinnati Enquirer

To the average citizen, all this fuss over a few text messages among the majority of Cincinnati City Council might seem trivial. But it's not. The content of Council members Wendell Young and Tamaya Dennard's disappeared text messages may be innocuous, but to haughtily flout the law sends a signal that council members don't care about voters or open government.

This is one of the reasons we trumpet transparency and opposed Issue 12, which granted council the ability to meet behind closed doors in executive session. Young testified before a grand jury this week about whether he destroyed text messages that a judge ordered turned over as part of a lawsuit alleging the council members illegally held meetings via text.

If true, Young's actions are disturbing and potentially criminal. As a former police officer, Young knows the importance of preserving evidence, so intentionally destroying texts vital to a court case would be unconscionable and would bring into question his fitness to serve. We'll give Dennard the benefit of the doubt about dropping her cell phone in a pool, resulting in her lost texts. Given Mayor John Cranley's mishap with his cell phone and a hot tub earlier this year, perhaps it's time for some rules governing council members' cell phone use near bodies of water.

OCOG joins amicus brief urging release of DEA opiate database

The Ohio Coalition for Open Government has joined an amicus brief alongside the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to a lawsuit filed by HD Media and the Washington Post, which are seeking access to a Drug Enforcement Administration database monitoring opiate pain pills. OCOG joined dozens of media organizations suing for access to the database including Advance Publications, Inc., American Society of News Editors, The Associated Press, Digital First Media, Dow Jones & Company, Gannett, and Politico.

The case is currently pending in federal court in Ohio

According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the lawsuit In re Nat'l Prescription Opiate Litigation was brought in response to a case filed by government entities from across the US, who are suing manufacturers, distributors and retailers of prescription opiate drugs. As part of discovery, the district court directed the DEA to produce its Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (“ARCOS”) database, which is a database that monitors the flow of opioids from manufacture to distribution to pharmacies and shows the number of doses distributed in each county by each company on a yearly basis. The defendents filed an objection to the release of the ARCOS database with the district court, which lead the Washington Post and HD Media to file their public records requests and lawsuit.

The Reporters Committee's amicus brief highlights the difference between the standard for protective orders and orders sealing court records; argues that a district court's analysis of "good cause" when entering a protective order must take into account the public interest in disclosure, and that disclosure of the ARCOS data would shed light on this litigation as well as a national health epidemic; argues that the protective order frustrates the public's right of access to the ACROS data under state law, including public records laws; and argues that the district court erred by authorizing the blanket sealing of numerous court records. 

To read the brief, click here.

Columnist: Stand up for open government

By Melissa Martin, Gallipolis Daily Tribune

Do you want to be in the know about happenings in your state, county, and city? Do you want to know where and how your taxed dollars are spent? Do you want access to certain public records?

“Citizen access to public records is the law of the land in all U.S. states and territories, and in the District of Columbia,” according to The National Freedom of Information Coalition, a nonpartisan alliance. The National Freedom of Information Coalition protects our right to open government. The mission is to make sure state and local governments and public institutions have laws, policies and procedures to facilitate the public’s access to their records and proceedings. www.nfoic.org/.

Open Government in Ohio

Ohio Sunshine Laws ensure all citizens are granted the right to have broad access to government records and meetings. The Open Government Unit educates the public and government about the intricacies of Ohio’s Sunshine Laws. Each year, in partnership with the Ohio Attorney General, the Auditor of State publishes Ohio Sunshine Laws, An Open Government Resource Manual (2018 publication has 256 pages).

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