Ohio Supreme Court Rules Threats Against Governor Are Not Public Records

Ohio Governor John Kasich at the Greater Cleveland Partnership's annual meeting (pic by Brian Bull)
Ohio Governor John Kasich at the Greater Cleveland Partnership's annual meeting (pic by Brian Bull)
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The governor’s office doesn’t release to the public details of his schedule, citing security concerns. But the progressive blog Plunderbund, which has been critical of Gov. Kasich, wanted to know more about his schedule, and went to the Ohio Supreme Court in May to argue their case.

Attorney Victoria Ullman told Justice Judith Lanzinger that the law is being used to shield threats against an office – which she said is a physical structure, and not a person. So therefore, threats against John Kasich should be public records.

“A public official is the term that’s used throughout the Revised Code when speaking of a person," Ullman said.

“And you would have us look at the two differently, and say that ‘official’ is not the same as ‘office,'" Lanzinger asked.

“Yes," Ullman replied.

And Ullman told Justice Terrence O’Donnell that the blog wanted just the files of closed investigations of threats against Kasich, which she said are not covered by the exemptions that shield security records from the state’s public records law.

O’Donnell “Do you think these are public records and therefore you’re entitled to them?”
Ullman: “Yes.”
O’Donnell: “That’s your argument.”
Ullman: “Yes.”
O’Donnell: “And if we determine they are not public records, then you’re not entitled to them, correct?”
Ullman: “Well, that’s how it works, yes.”

The justices didn’t ask much more about whether the law sees the officeholder differently than the office. But William Cole, arguing for the Department of Public Safety, said that the law sees open and closed files regarding threats to the governor the same way – they’re off limits.

O’Donnell: “So whether the file is open or closed, the information in the file is still being used for protection of the office.”
Cole: “It is, although the statute has no temporal language; it says ‘directly used’. So that should be, whether in the past, present or future, there’s no requirement within the statute that the file has to be open.”

In a unanimous opinion, the court shot down the argument that a public official and an office are different – saying the office can’t function without its employees and records that are used to protect or maintain the security of that office are security records. That means they aren’t covered by the public records law and Plunderbund can’t have them.

In court, it seemed that the justices weren’t on board with Plunderbund’s arguments. But while Justice Paul Pfeifer said that he felt the case was about very little at all, he also expressed concern that since so little information is being released by the state under the shield of “security concerns”.
“Maybe there isn’t much. Everybody’s left in the dark, so the conspiracy theorists run away with it all.”

Interestingly, Kasich’s Democratic opponent, Ed FitzGerald, has declined to release data from parking card and key card swipes as Cuyahoga County Executive – also citing security concerns.

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