OHIO — Ohio State University must release the names and business addresses of animal researchers to an attorney who represents animal rights interests, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in late December.
The court rejected the University’s claims that it feared for the safety of its animal research scientists and that they enjoyed a right of privacy under the U.S. Constitution that would prohibit release of their names and work addresses.
Quoting from the dissent in an earlier case, the state’s high court held that “criminal conduct should be punished by criminal sanctions” not by judicially expanding the constitutional rights to privacy and academic freedom in order to bar access to public records.
Shawn Thomas, a Springfield, Ohio, attorney who represents several animal protection groups, filed a request in May 1994 under the Ohio open records law for all records on the handling of public information requests by named groups and individuals. He noted that the University was slow to respond and consistently denied names and addresses of the scientists from any records made available to his clients.
The University again redacted names and addresses from the records it provided Thomas and in July he asked the State’s high court in Columbus to order the information disclosed.
In its arguments the University referred to a U.S. Justice Department report on criminal activity against animal researchers (although it noted that it did not suspect Thomas’ request was criminally motivated.) The school also said disclosure could injure the academic freedom of the scientists.
However, Thomas argued that without names, his clients could not monitor the workload of the public institution’s scientists or learn anything about the number and type of public grants awarded for their research.
The court said that in enumerating very narrow, specific exceptions to the public records statute, the General Assembly has already weighed and balanced the competing public policy considerations between the public’s right to know and burdens imposed by disclosure. Court review of those public policy considerations would be inappropriate, the court said. (Thomas v. Ohio State University; Pro Se counsel: Shawn Thomas, Springfield, Ohio)
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.