From The Blade
If the current state of public records law were a student, Ohio should be worried that the once-star pupil is now in danger of failing, a First Amendment lawyer said Thursday.
“Ohio public record law is predicated on the inarguable proposition that public records are the public’s records, and that the incidental custodians — whether it be a civil servant or an elected official — are truly custodians and they operate as trustees for all of us in the custody and handling of those records,” Toledo attorney Fritz Byers, The Blade’s counsel in open government cases, said at the convention of the Ohio Newspaper Association.
Ohio is generally considered to have one of the strongest public records or “sunshine” laws in the nation, but Mr. Byers expressed concern that some recent court rulings, including some by the Ohio Supreme Court, have begun whittling away at public access to its own records.
Attorney General Mike DeWine described the current state of open records law to be “inconsistent,” particularly in terms of its implementation at the local government level, where officials sometimes don’t understand the law or don’t want to understand it.
“I think the state of the law is good,” he said. “I think the public policy of the state is by and large good. I think the Supreme Court decisions have been very clear about which way we should go. The devil’s always in the implementation. I think the challenge is on a case-by-case [basis]. Part of it is education.”
The Ohio Supreme Court has seemingly come down on both sides of the issue in the eyes of journalists. In 2006, it recognized for the first time a governor’s ability to assert executive privilege in shielding some records from public view.