Updated Wed, Aug 27, 2014 1:07 pm
The state of Ohio acted legally in withholding records documenting threats against Republican Gov. John Kasich from a political blogger who requested them, the Ohio Supreme Court decided Wednesday.
In an unsigned opinion, the high court rejected the Democratic-leaning blog Plunderbund's arguments that the state Public Safety Department had improperly denied its request for public records under a "security records" exception to state law.
The court disagreed.
"(A) public office cannot function without the employees and agents who work in that office, and records 'directly used for protecting or maintaining the security of a public office' must inevitably include those that are directly used for protecting and maintaining the security of the employees and other officers of that office," the opinion said.
Attorneys for the state had argued that Ohio public-records law clearly allows records of threats against Kasich to be shielded from public view for the governor's protection, while the blog's lawyer contended security records only include those records created to protect the physical facilities of the governor's office.
A message seeking comment was left Wednesday with Plunderbund's attorney, Victoria Ullmann.
The blog initially sought investigation files on any threats to Kasich or his staff from the Public Safety Department in 2012. Shortly before the request, Kasich's office cited a large number of threats against the governor as a basis for declining to release daily schedules to the state Democratic Party. The blog wanted to find out the nature of the threats.
It remains unclear whether the referenced threats were tied to large labor protests that had been staged against Kasich in 2011 during a battle over bargaining limits for public-employee unions. The fight ended in a new state law being overturned.
During oral arguments, Ullmann cited as evidence of the state's overly broad use of the law that the state continued to deny access to the threat records even after Plunderbund repeatedly narrowed its request to include only a description of each threat.
The state's attorney told justices that Ohio public-records law makes clear the government can shield such records from public view for Kasich's protection - and that means the entire investigative file, including the threat itself.
To settle the issue, the court hinged Wednesday's decision in part on affidavits submitted by several experts, including state Public Safety Director John Born and Ohio's Highway Patrol superintendent and homeland security director, which persuaded justices that releasing records sought by Plunderbund would indeed pose a security threat to the governor. Justice Sharon Kennedy recused herself from the case.
The decision comes as Kasich's rival in the November governor's race, Cuyahoga County executive Ed FitzGerald, has been sued by the Ohio Republican Party over his refusal to release county records detailing his comings and goings from government buildings and parking facilities. He has also cited security.