Wednesday, September 16, 2015

U of Akron: Will It Waste Money on a Lawsuit?

Why do so many university lawyers in Ohio fail to understand public records law?  

Akron Beacon Journal reporter Rick Armon made a public records request for a slideshow administration officials at the University of Akron were presenting, a slideshow that featured a football player with a jersey showing a new name for the school, Ohio Tech.

University officials now say the university's name is not going to be changed.   But Rick got something besides a visual that documented what the university had been planning.  He got another example of how universities violate public records law.

The University refused to provide three slides.    The University claims the slides, part of a presentation made to multiple audiences, are proprietary and under attorney-client privilege.
A first-year law student could explain that's not possible.  This is a presentation made by officials of a public university to staff at a public university, donors and others.   It's a public record. 

Now, what happens when the Beacon Journal files suit?   Well, the University knows it will lose the case. Will it waste money arguing a case it knows it will lose? 

What is it with university lawyers?   

A few months ago, Rick requested a copy of a contract from Kent State University.   University lawyers redacted the financial terms of the contract.  A first-year law school student could have explained to Kent's legal counsel that the financial terms of a contract with a public agency in Ohio are public record.   A few days later, Kent State did relent and provide Rick an un-redacted version of the contract, something that should have been done initially.    

Here's a suggestion for both universities.   Call Dave Marburger at BakerHostetler, the number one expert on Ohio's public records law.  (disclosure:  I've worked with Dave for years and he and I wrote a book on Ohio's public records law - Access With Attitude:  An Advocate's Guide to Freedom of Information in Ohio.)  Ask Dave to spend a day explaining Ohio's public records law to legal counsel at the University of Akron and Kent State University.  

Then both universities can start obeying the law and providing the transparency that's required under the law instead of embarrassing themselves and fighting the public's right to know. 

Great work by Rick Armon; he's doing what a journalist is supposed to do.