Monday, March 17, 2014

Outlook for Ohio Sunshine Week: Cloudy with a chance of showers

This week has been declared "Sunshine Week" in Ohio, dedicated to highlighting Ohio's Sunshine Laws and the performance of public officials and courts under them.

First, the positive:

  • COAST has had dramatic success in southwest Ohio in enforcing Ohio's public records laws, training public officials to promptly and properly respond to records requests.  It used public records requests in 2013 to shine a spotlight on the disastrous Parking Plot, and the Streetcar debacle.  From the aggressive use of the public records statute, through requests and litigation, we have forced a much greater degree of governmental accountability than ever before.
  • As was reported here, we also have had success under the Ohio Open Meetings laws, forcing Clearcreek's Trustees to end a practice of 26 years of illegal pre-meeting meetings, where everything was discussed, deliberated and decided behind closed doors.
  Now, the negative,

  • Courts throughout Ohio and now the Ohio Supreme Court in its South Euclid decisions have shown overt hostility to Oho's Public Records law, and in the most recent two decisions effectively repealed it.  They did so by ruling that as long as the public agency produces the records before a final judgment is rendered (even if after years of litigation), the case is "mooted" and no attorneys fees or costs are awarded.  The net effect of these decisions is that no attorney would ever accept a public records case, and thus the statute has been gutted.  Worse, the decision is cut from whole cloth, and entirely unsupportable by the language of the statute -- in other words, the Court re-wrote the law to suit its whims.
So, there is not so much Sunshine in Ohio this Sunshine Week.  The forecast for open government is cloudy at best.

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