In the State of Ohio, certain documents are considered public records and should be able to be retrieved by members of the public. However, the Ohio Supreme Court recently clarified that any denial of records must also come with good reasoning on the part of the agency.
For instance, a reporter might contact a police department and file a public records request for documents related to a particular case in the area. The police department has the right to deny that records request if the information is a part of an ongoing investigation, but they can’t just simply deny the request. According to the Supreme Court, the police department would have to give reasoning behind the denial so that the reporter understands why they cannot have the public information they have requested.
The Ohio Supreme Court made this decision on Sept. 3. The decision overruled a previous ruling that had been made in the 12th District appellate court. This decision in particular was related to case where a person requested dash camera video footage that an officer took during a traffic stop. The police department denied the release of the footage, claiming it was confidential information. While dash camera footage is relatively new in the world of public records, most people and police agencies do consider it public information that should be released if requested. The appellate court did not force the agency to provide reasoning for its refusal to turn over the footage, but the supreme court overruled that decision on Tuesday.
In general, the only items that are exempt from release to the public are documents and information related to ongoing investigations, medical records and communications that are subject to attorney-client privilege.
While the decision overrules the one made by the appellate court, it is by no means a groundbreaking legal case that changes the game for public agencies across the state. Rather, it clarifies the existing law and reminds all public entities that they must provide legitimate reasons for refusing to give out public records and public information. In fact, chances are this ruling will not have any impact on the day-to-day lives of government workers across the state whose job it is to respond to public records requests. For the most part, they will continue to gather the information necessary and provide reasons when they cannot give out certain documents and records.
However, this recent ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court does shed light on the importance of public records and the role of due process in society. It helps to maintain a system of checks and balances, allowing the public to access information that is rightfully theirs while also protecting law enforcement agencies and other public entities that are trying to do their jobs each day. The ruling serves as a reminder that access to public records and public information is a right within the state and across the country, and everyone must respect and obey the public records laws.