Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today released the 2014 edition of Ohio Sunshine Laws: An Open Government Resource Manual. The release of the manual, commonly referred to as the “Yellow Book,” coincides with the commemoration of Sunshine Week.
“Whether you are news media, a government official, a school, a civic organization, or anyone interested in open government, I encourage all Ohioans to learn more about the importance of openness and transparency to our democracy during Sunshine Week” said Attorney General DeWine.
The manual is available online at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov/YellowBook. Updates to the “Yellow Book” this year include:
- The formal opinion DeWine issued to the State and county auditors confirming that Ohio public offices generally can’t charge citizens a fee to view public records online, even if visitors choose to print out or download an electronic copy. Inspection of public records is without charge, and a public office can only charge the actual cost of responding to a particular request when they actually make and deliver copies to that requester.
- The Ohio Supreme Court ruling that if a criminal defendant makes a public records request to the prosecutor, it triggers the prosecutor’s right to reciprocal discovery from the defendant. This is a reminder that discovery under Criminal Rule 16 “is the preferred method to obtain discovery from the state,” not public records requests. (State v. Athon)
- The Ohio Supreme Court ruling that if a court does not issue an order telling a public office to produce more records, then attorney fees will not be awarded to the person filing the lawsuit. (DiFranco v. S. Euclid) This is based on specific language in the Public Records Act (“If the court issues a judgment that orders the public office … to comply with division (B) …, the court may order reasonable attorney fees …” R.C. 149.43(C)(2)(b)).
- A Franklin County court ruling that a school board could not use just any attorney-client conversation as an excuse to go into private executive session. Generally, a majority of a Board may meet in private with its attorney when it concerns a specific pending or impending lawsuit, or else must take place in public. Dispatch v. Cols. City School Bd., Case No. 12-CV-012707 (Fr. Co. C.P.)
In addition to producing the “Yellow Book,” the Ohio Attorney General’s Public Records Unit conducts sunshine laws trainings at dozens of locations around Ohio. The training on public records law is required for local public officials or their designee at least once per elected term and also includes training on the open meetings law. These trainings are also open to the public and media. A list of trainings can be found atwww.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov/SunshineLawTraining.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Public Records Unit also operates a voluntary Public Records Mediation Program to resolve disputes between local government entities and records requestors. Since the program was launched in the summer of 2012, it has received more than 100 mediation requests, with most requests being successfully resolved for both parties. The program can help requestors receive their records more quickly when there is a dispute, and the program protects taxpayers by helping local governments avoid costly litigation. Information on this program can be found atwww.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov/PublicRecordsMediation .