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Discovery materials may become public when filed with court

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    NMU         OHIO         Secret Courts         Sep 26, 2001    

Discovery materials may become public when filed with court

  • A state appellate court held that discovery materials become court documents when introduced as evidence in a hearing, but allowed a trial court to apply a balancing test in determining whether they should be disclosed.

When a reporter from the Cincinnati Enquirer attempted to gain access to certain exhibits used as evidence in a pretrial hearing for an Ohio man accused of murder, Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Patrick Dinkelacker denied the motion.

But Ohio’s 1st District Court of Appeals overturned Dinkelacker’s decision on July 27 in a ruling that determined discovery materials become court documents when they are introduced as evidence in court.

“It wasn’t crystal clear if discovery materials are public record, so it was good to get that ruling,” Enquirer attorney Jack Griner said.

Although the appellate court granted a writ of mandamus to the Enquirer, it gave Dinkelacker 10 days to apply a balancing test in order to weigh the right of access to court information with the right of Michael Wehrung to a fair trial.

“We hold that the documents in question did indeed change character — from discovery materials to court documents — when they were introduced in court as exhibits for a motion hearing,” two concurring judges wrote in their decision. “We further hold that the material is a public record — but that does not end our analysis.”

The trial court subsequently found the Wehrung’s Sixth Amendment rights weighed heavy in comparison with the reporters’ rights of access, and much of the evidence was withheld by the court.

“Certain materials were turned over, and some were not,” Griner said. Such practices are relatively common, he added.

(State ex rel: Cincinnati Enquirer v. the Honorable Patrick Dinkelacker; Media Counsel, Jack Griner, Grayton, Head and Ritchey) GR

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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