The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state failed to provide evidence for not disclosing names of some foster parents following a records request submitted by The Cincinnati Enquirer in 2006.
In the unanimous decision, the court rejected the state’s blanket denial of the Enquirer’s request for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services’ entire foster home database.
“The director has not yet met her burden to establish that the disclosure of the list of names and addresses of certified foster caregivers would necessarily disclose, which, if any, of the certified foster caregivers are, in fact, public-assistance recipients or applicants,” Justice Terrence O’Donnell wrote in the 17-page opinion.
The court also rejected the department’s “good sense” argument and stated it had not specified which names were exempt under other federal or state laws. The state argued that releasing the names of foster parents does not make “good sense;” that it wasn’t a good idea because it could jeopardize the safety of both the foster children and parents.
Jack Greiner, an attorney for the Enquirer, said the court’s rejection of the “good sense” rule could have broad implications.
“It will force public offices in Ohio to follow the law strictly and not make policy decisions under the guise of this ‘good sense’ theory,” Greiner said. “It gives us more certainty of what is and is not exempt under public records law. That ‘good sense’ rule was a sort of catch-all.”
The court also ruled that a new law exempting all foster parent names from disclosure does not apply retroactively and will therefore not affect this case.
The department now has the burden in determining which names are exempt depending on whether or not they receive public assistance. Those that do are exempt under the statute.
“We believe the proper course is to allow the director to establish which information fits into this exception to disclosure, which had been unidentified before our analysis,” O’Donnell wrote.
Greiner said the newspaper plans to fight the public assistance exemption.
“It certainly gives us the opportunity we would otherwise not have to obtain at least some of the names,” Greiner said. “And, hopefully get all of the names if we’re able to persuade the court that the interpretation of this public assistance exemption is overly broad.”