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City won't appeal decision on officers' privacy rights

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  1. Freedom of Information
SIXTH CIRCUIT--The city of Columbus has decided not to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court the unique decision in February…

SIXTH CIRCUIT–The city of Columbus has decided not to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court the unique decision in February of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati (6th Cir.) that mandatory release of the personnel files of undercover police officers violates their right to privacy under the U.S. Constitution.

The city unsuccessfully had sought a rehearing by the full appeals court, supported by friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of most Ohio metropolitan daily newspapers, the Ohio Newspaper Association, and press associations in Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee.

In early September, the federal magistrate judge handling the case on remand invited the Ohio Attorney General to intervene because the police officers’ claims for damages constitute an “attack on the constitutionality of the Ohio Public Records Act.”

The appeals panel ruled that disclosure of files containing personal information about the undercover police officers to a lawyer representing defendants in a drug conspiracy case placed the officers and their families at substantial risk of serious bodily harm.

Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote that disclosure implicates a “constitutionally protected liberty interest” because it threatens the personal security and bodily integrity of the officers and their families.

However, David Marburger, an attorney for the Ohio Newspaper Association, wrote in its Bulletin that there is no evidence in the case of any harm or threatened harm to the officers.

The federal appeals court ordered the trial judge to enjoin the city from releasing police officer personnel records without first giving the officers an opportunity to veto the release, and to determine damages to be awarded to the officers.

The Bulletin said that there is no indication whether the state attorney general will intervene. (Kallstrom v. City of Columbus; Counsel: Glenn Redick, Columbus)