Court finds letters from parents not public records
OHIO–The Ohio Supreme Court in Columbus in late March reversed an appellate court ruling that a school superintendent had no authority to discard letters from parents that addressed the controversial conduct of a high school basketball coach.
Karen Sensel sued the Butler County Superintendent to force the production of letters written by parents about whether the high school basketball coach had abused players. Superintendent Dennis Leone testified that shortly after reading the letters he threw them away. About half of the letters criticized the coach, and the other half were positive. Leone said that he discarded them because he felt that the letters represented a campaign in support of, or against, the initial complaint from a parent.
In a two-sentence order, the high court reversed and said it relied on its August 1998 decision in a case brought by the Akron Beacon Journal, where it held that letters received by a trial court judge while considering the sentencing of a convicted rapist were not “records” under the Open Records Act because they did not help to document the judge’s activities or decisions.
The trial court ruled that Leone had no duty to keep the letters. An appellate court, however, decided that the parents’ letters served to document Leone’s decision not to investigate the allegations. Under the intermediate appellate ruling, the letters became records under Ohio law that should have been kept because they documented a matter of public concern.
(Ohio ex rel. Sensel v. Leone)