Court records must be open

Published 10:54 am Tuesday, December 30, 2008

With winter in full swing, Ohioans expect slippery slopes outdoors. But unfortunately those dangerous inclines were found inside the Ohio Supreme Court last week.

In approving its first formal rules addressing the public availability of records from Ohio’s courts, the state’s high court issued a ruling that on the surface looks like a harmless move that protects individual privacy, but in actuality sets a dangerous precedent to further keep the public in the dark when it comes to what occurs in courts and government.

According to Associated Press reports, courts will be now be allowed to restrict information about juveniles accused of a crime if that information might reveal the juveniles’ identities.

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In and of itself, that may not sound too harmful, but it could open the door to further legislation and misinterpretation by court employees who don’t understand the law.

Open records audits across the state revealed in recent years that many documents that are public are not made available without the requester going far above and beyond what is required by law.

These changes only pave the way for more abuse.

But the court’s ruling didn’t stop there. The new rules also require those requesting sealed records to provide evidence that the documents should be made public, limits the number of records that can be mailed, transmitted or delivered to a requester each month without that individual essentially identifying him or herself and also allows courts to post fewer documents online.

Ohio has shown to be sorely lacking when it comes to public record access with many government or public office employees simply not understanding the law or why it is important.

Recent promises of education and training may have helped, but this is still an area the state must improve upon.

The public needs to demand that open records stay that way.