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Ohio Appellant Wins Mandamus Order Disclosing Attorney Fees Statements

Appellant Jean A. Anderson won an appeal of a judgment denying her copies of certain itemized billing statements for attorneys service rendered to Vermillion, Ohio, overturning a lower-court decision that had sided with the city’s argument that the statements could not be disclosed because they were covered by the attorney-client privilege. Anderson had filed a mandamus action to compel compliance with R.C. 149.43 of the Ohio Public Records Act (Act).

Both the lower court and Ohio Appeals court agreed with the city, citing the case of State ex rel. Dawson v. Bloom-Carroll Local School Dist., 959 N.E.2d 524 (Ohio 2011), which found that narrative portions of itemized attorney-billing statements containing descriptions of legal services performed by counsel are protected by the privilege.

The Ohio Supreme Court in this case, however, noted that the Act states that, “If a public record contains information that is exempt from the duty to permit public inspection or to copy the public record, the public office or the person responsible for the public record shall make available all of the information within the public record that is not exempt.” R.C. 149.43(B)(1).
The court turned aside the City of Vermillion’s argument that the non-redacted portion need not be produced because they would be “meaningless,” and distinguished the case of Dawson because the plaintiff in that case had already been provided the non-privileged information, unlike the plaintiff in this case.

In conclusion, the court ruled that, “Anderson established her entitlement to a writ of mandamus to compel Vermillion to provide her with copies of the nonexempt portions of the requested itemized attorney-billing statements,” but denied the accompanying petition for fees, ruling that, “a well-informed public official could have reasonably believed, based upon our decision in Dawson ... that the nonexempt portions of the attorney-billing statements would be withheld....” See: State ex rel. Anderson v. City of Vermillion, 134 Ohio St.3d 120, 980 N.E.2d 975 (Ohio 2012).

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Related legal case

State ex rel. Anderson v. City of Vermillion