The Ohio Supreme Court declined to hold a Beacon Journal reporter in contempt for refusing to testify in an Akron Bar Association disciplinary hearing on one of its attorneys.
Karen C. Lefton, an attorney for the newspaper, said Monday’s ruling means the high court has dropped the matter from consideration and that the bar association cannot compel the reporter to testify.
“The bar association is back to square one,” Lefton said.
If the bar issues another subpoena, she said the newspaper would continue to fight it “to protect its journalists against this sort of intrusion into its First Amendment protections.”
Meanwhile, an attorney for the bar association, Robert M. Gippin, said the bar will continue to pursue action in ethical proceedings against attorney Larry D. Shenise.
Gippin declined to comment on the high court ruling.
The dispute involves comments attributed to Shenise in a 2012 article that reporter Phil Trexler wrote for the newspaper.
Shenise, who was handling a civil case for an elderly man in Summit County Common Pleas Judge Paul Gallagher’s court, told the newspaper that no one from the court had notified him about a scheduled hearing by mail or by phone.
Gallagher signed an arrest warrant for the 80-year-old man after he missed the hearing, and he ended up being held in the county jail for several hours after police discovered the warrant during a traffic stop.
The Beacon Journal reported those developments in a front-page news story.
Gallagher then filed a bar disciplinary complaint against Shenise, who later said he was misquoted in the story.
Trexler previously responded to the bar’s subpoena, saying in a sworn affidavit that he stands by the accuracy “of the entire story.”
In legal briefs filed with the high court last month, Lefton said the newspaper asked the justices to set specific guidelines for when, if ever, a journalist can be subpoenaed to testify in a quasi-judicial or administrative proceeding, such as a bar disciplinary hearing.
The justices, however, elected not to do that in Monday’s ruling.