Charity’s financial records exempt as litigation documents
OHIO–In a late January decision, the state Supreme Court in Columbus ruled that certain fundraising records of a charitable organization charged with financial misconduct are exempt from public disclosure as trial preparation or work product materials. The court noted that the defendants could still appeal their guilty verdicts and be granted a new trial, and the records would be used in those retrials.
A Cincinnati television station (WLWT-TV5) asked the Hamilton County Sheriff and local prosecutor’s office to release all information concerning a fund-raising group, the Ohio Brotherhood of Deputy Sheriffs, which had been under investigation by the sheriff’s department for financial wrongdoing. The sheriff’s department had turned over its findings to the prosecutor’s office.
As a result of the investigation, a Brotherhood officer pleaded guilty to a number of misdemeanor charges relating to charity fraud, one individual pled guilty to election fraud involving a Brotherhood donation, and the organization was charged with failing to file an annual financial report.
Both offices denied WLWT-TV’s repeated attempts to obtain the fund-raising records, claiming that the records were protected from disclosure as trial preparation or work product material. WLWT-TV5 then filed suit to compel the release of the records.
The court held that the defendants might appeal or be granted a new trial, so many of the records still constituted protected work product or trial preparation records. However, the court did order the release of some records that were not covered by the work product exemption, including a campaign committee finance report and indictment and hearing records. (The State ex rel. WLWT-TV5 v. Leis; Media Counsel: Richard Goehler, Columbus)