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How people who value open government can overcome the Ohio Department of Health's stonewalling of the NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Foundation's public-records request: submit their own.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Chandra Law can help you frame your Ohio public-records and federal Freedom of Information Act requests to avoid objections. And we can help you enforce your request.

Under Ohio law, with very limited exceptions, government records are the public's records. That is why we are all entitled to obtain them. This law helps keep government accountable. For, as Justice Brandeis famously said, "[s]unshine is said to be the best disinfectant."

On October 27, 2014, the Chandra Law Firm, on behalf of our client, the NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Foundation, sent a routine public-records request to the Ohio Department of Health asking for email and phone communications between the department and Ohio Right to Life.

Unfortunately, the department has refused to produce these documents, claiming that the request is too broad. But the request is of the type that journalists and engaged citizens send all the time-poking around, finding out who might be influencing whom. Kicking the tires of our government, so to speak, to see how it runs. Indeed, the Plunderbund blog has now reported that when Ohio Right to Life wants public records, the department is happy to produce them the same day. The NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Foundation? Well, it has to sue.

You can bring some sunshine to a department and an administration in evident need of some disinfectant. Because these records are open to anyone, you could send the department the same public-records request that our firm did on NARAL's behalf. You could copy and email the request below to the Ohio Department of Health: (If you send the request by certified mail, you may be eligible to recover attorneys' fees should the department refuse.)

If you do send such a request, please forward us a copy at And please let us know if they do not comply within a week.

Here is the request you can copy:

Ohio Department of Health

246 N. High Street, 7th Floor

Columbus, OH 43215

Re: Public-records request

This is a public-records request under R.C. 149.43 to inspect the following records:

1.For the time period October 28, 2013 to October 27, 2014, all telephone records (cellular or landline) evidencing communications between the following two phone numbers-614.565.5522 or 614.547.0099-and any employee of the Ohio Department of Health.

2.For the time period October 1, 2012 to October 27, 2014, all email communications between any employee of the Ohio Department of Health and any individual with an email address ending in "" related to the subject matter of regulating abortion clinics or ambulatory surgical facilities that provide abortions.

In short, we are seeking to inspect records evidencing communications between the special-interest group Ohio Right to Life and ODH officials or employees. The telephone records should include the date, time, and duration of each call as well as the specific telephone number that placed and the specific telephone number that received the call.

If your office cannot provide the specific telephone records requested, we request, in the alternative, the telephone records for all phone lines assigned to or associated with the Ohio Department of Health during the stated time period. We request this in the alternative only if the public office refuses to provide records responsive to our narrower request.

Ohio's public-records law requires that a public office, upon receiving a public-records request, promptly make its records available for inspection. (R.C. 149.43(B)(1).) The Ohio Supreme Court has required public offices to produce records within eight days of a request. (State ex rel. Wadd v. City of Cleveland, 81 Ohio St.3d 50, 54 (1998).)

Further, the statute gives the requester the right to choose the medium in which the records are received for inspection. (R.C. 149.43(B)(6).) Please provide searchable .pdf files of the records by e-mail to me, responding to this address.

Please note that records documenting the business of a public office or the basis for the decisions of its officials that are in officials' personal e-mail accounts, cell phones, personal computers, etc. are still public records. (See, e.g., State ex rel. Glasgow v. Jones, 119 Ohio St.3d 391, 2008-Ohio-4788, at ¶ 23.) Therefore, an exhaustive search should be made for responsive records of this nature.

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