Simply having an attorney in the room does not allow the Columbus Board of Education to close meetings about its ongoing student-data scandal, a Franklin County magistrate ruled yesterday.
Franklin County Common Pleas Magistrate Tim McCarthy issued a preliminary injunction that orders the school board to stop such meetings.
In doing so, McCarthy rejected a legal theory developed by Robert “Buzz” Trafford, a Columbus attorney the board hired to advise it on the scandal. Trafford, managing partner with Porter Wright, had argued that the age-old common-law edict of attorney-client privilege — or the right to meet privately with an attorney — required the board to close meetings to speak with him.
The board used the tactic to close seven meetings last year, over objections from The Dispatch, which charged that the board was violating the Ohio Open Meetings Act. The newspaper sued, resulting in the decision released yesterday.
“It’s been The Dispatch’s position that the school board had adopted a position inconsistent with the Ohio case law, including two Ohio Court of Appeals decisions, and today the magistrate agrees,” said Marion H. Little Jr., attorney for The Dispatchand a partner with Zeiger, Tigges & Little, of Columbus .The court determined that “a meeting that violates this order would cause irreparable harm and prejudice to” the newspaper.
McCarthy cited one of the same appeals-court cases that the newspaper’s reporters had pointed out to Trafford in concluding that the board can’t rely on attorney-client privilege as a reason to have private meetings on the data scandal.