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Court throws out newspaper lawsuit over secret superintendent search

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Court throws out newspaper lawsuit over secret superintendent search

  • A Cincinnati newspaper had no First Amendment right of access to records of the recruitment and hiring of a new school superintendent, a federal judge in Cincinnati ruled in mid-February.

March 10, 2003 — A federal judge Feb. 12 dismissed a lawsuit filed by The Cincinnati Enquirer, ruling that the newspaper had no First Amendment right to view the process of selection of a new school superintendent.

Judge S. Arthur Spiegel threw out the newspapers’ suit claiming that the Cincinnati Board of Education secretly recruited and hired a new superintendent. The Enquirerwanted access to records of the process.

The suit alleged that several parties, including the seven members who comprise the board of education, a recruiting firm and the new superintendent conspired to keep candidates’ identities confidential. The newspaper also claimed that these parties used aliases to identify the candidates and kept their collection of resumes secret.

The newspaper did not demonstrate “a historical basis for access of resumes returned to candidates or for forcing a school board to create records,” the court said . It further ruled that the newspaper had not “demonstrated that public access plays a positive role in the recruitment process that outweighs the obvious negative effects.”

A constitutional right of access, like the public’s right of access to court records, hinges on a traditional openness where openness serves a useful governmental purpose. Spiegel held that the board of education members did not violate any constitutional rights in their actions. Nonetheless, in his decision, Spiegel expressed “dismay with the process the Board used to impede access by the press.”

The court held that the board of education could have called private sessions to deal with recruitment matters.

Enquirer lawyer Jack Greiner disagreed with the court’s reasoning and said that the newspaper might still file an appeal.

“We didn’t like the decision and we disagreed with the judge’s substantive analysis. We also thought that the judge would stay the proceedings,” Greiner said.

(The Cincinnati Inquirer v. Cincinnati Board of Education; Media counsel: John Charles Greiner, Graydon Head & Ritchey, Cincinnati) GS

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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