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Public Records are Not Always Disclosable for Inmates

In the case of States ex. rel. Chatman v. Galion Police Dept., 2023-Ohio-4177, an appellate court held that, pursuant to R.C. 149.43(B)(8), public records relating to an inmate’s conviction are not required to be released to the person who is incarcerated from the criminal conviction unless the inmate had received a finding by the sentencing judge that the public-records request was necessary to support a justiciable claim.

In this case, the inmate-relator argued that the police department did not respond to his request for public records and sought a writ of mandamus to compel the police department to produce several categories of documents, which included department policies, records relating to his criminal conviction and the personnel files of two police officers. In response, the police department-respondent argued that while the relator was entitled to two of the records that had to do with the department’s standard procedure, the relator was not entitled to the requested incident reports and criminal investigation records because a judge did not determine the information sought was justiciable, and that the personnel files of law enforcement contained highly confidential and personal information and were exempt from production. The appellate court agreed in part with the relator and in part with the respondent; writ of mandamus granted in part.

In support of its decision, the appellate court explained that under R.C. 149.43(B)(8), the relator was required to obtain a finding by a judge that the public records requested were necessary to support an apparent justiciable claim, and he is not entitled to the records related to his criminal case until he has that finding.  The appellate court further explained that the relator was entitled to one personnel file, but not both personnel files, as one contained only personal information about an officer’s family, whereas the other did not.  The Court rejected the blanket proposition that the personnel files of law enforcement are exempt from disclosure to inmates, noting that only those records which contain certain personal information may be redacted prior to production in response to a public records request.

To read this case, click here.

Authors: Matthew John Markling and the McGown & Markling Team.

Note: This blog entry does not constitute – nor does it contain – legal advice. Legal jurisprudence is like the always-changing Midwestern weather. As a result, this single blog entry cannot substitute for consultation with a McGown & Markling attorney. If legal advice is needed with respect to a specific factual situation, please feel free to contact a McGown & Markling attorney.

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