Public Records Law

By HSK, March 20, 2015

Is an outgoing 9-1-1 call between a police dispatcher and an accused in a murder case exempt from Ohio’s public records law? In the recent case of State ex rel. Cincinnati Enquirer v. Sage, 2015-Ohio-974, the Ohio Supreme Court held that the recording is a public record and should have been released upon request. Ohio law exempts various records from release, inclusive trial-preparation and confidential law-enforcement investigatory records. The 9-1-1 recording fell within none of those exceptions. An interesting aspect of the case was the prosecuting attorney’s concern that release of the recording would unfairly prejudice the accused’s right to a fair trial as protected by the 6th Amendment. The Ohio Supreme Court recognized the importance of this concern, however, it ultimately rejected the claim on the basis that there was no evidence presented that release of the record would, in fact, cause the accused such prejudice at trial. The Court further held that, in addition to statutory damages, an award of reasonable attorney’s fees was warranted. The case again illustrates the need for local governments to closely scrutinize the bases for any denials of public records requests.

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