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Ohio Supreme Court Grants State Prisoner Another $1,000 for Denied Records

by Keith Sanders 

On March 15, 2023, the Ohio Supreme Court partially granted a writ of mandamus brought by a state prisoner, ordering Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Pavan Parikh to produce copies of court documents related to a 2001 case. The Court also awarded $1,000 in statutory damages to the prisoner, Kimani E. Ware, because the Clerk failed to provide the record within 10 business days of Ware’s request.

That brought Ware’s total haul to at least $5,000 from suing officials in the state for denying his records requests. The Court earlier granted him $3,000 in December 2022 for a similar denial by the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. [See: PLN, June 2023, p.58.] He was also awarded $1,000 in March 2021 for records denied by the City of Akron. See: State ex rel. Ware v. City of Akron, 164 Ohio St. 3d 557 (2021).

In this case, Ware sent a public records request to the Hamilton County Clerk in February 2021, pursuant to R.C. 149.43 of Ohio’s Public Records Act, seeking oaths of office for three judges, along with a docket sheet, a writ of mandamus, Motion to Dismiss and judgment filed on July 27, 2001. When the Clerk failed to respond, Ware filed a writ of mandamus in the Court pro se, requesting the records, along with statutory damages and court costs.

The Court began by acknowledging that mandamus was the “appropriate remedy to compel compliance with R.C. 149.43,” citing State ex rel. Physicians Comm. for Resp. Med. v. Bd. of Trs. of Ohio State Univ., 108 Ohio St. 3d 288 (2006). The Court then noted Ware must “show he has a clear right to the requested relief and that Parikh has a clear duty provide it,” pointing to State ex rel. Ellis v. Maple Hts. Police Dept., 158 Ohio St.3d 25 (2019).

The Clerk argued that Ware’s request for three oaths of office was governed by the Rules of Superintendence for the Court of Ohio rather than the state’s Public Records Act and thus mandamus wasn’t the appropriate vehicle for such a request.

The Court had previously determined in yet another mandamus Ware brought – but ultimately lost –that it was proper to refuse him a “record memorializing a judge’s oath of office,” since that “was an ‘administrative document’ governed by the Rules of Superintendence ‘because [it] recorded the operations of the court.’” See: State ex rel. Ware v. Kurt, 169 Ohio St. 3d 223 (2022). Therefore Ware’s mandamus for those records in this case was properly denied.

The Clerk also argued that the remaining documents related to a 2001 judgment – State ex rel. Cincinnati Enquirer v. Dinke Lacker, 142 Ohio App.3d 725 (2001) – which was a criminal case prior to July 1, 2009. The Court noted the significance of that date by quoting from another denied records mandamus action that Ware lost, State ex rel. Ware v. Giavasis, 163 Ohio St. 3d 359 (2020), in which it said that requests for “documents in cases commenced on or after July 1, 2009, are governed by the Rules of Superintendence, not the Public Records Act.”

The Court observed that the Cincinnati Enquirer case “was not a criminal” one but rather an “original action in mandamus, which is a civil action.” However, the Court also pointed out that “neither party...cites a decision considering whether the statute [R.C. 149.43 (B)(8)] applies to an inmate’s request for records for a mandamus action in which the underlying subject matter concerned a criminal prosecution.”

Nevertheless, because the Clerk did not meet his burden showing that the statute applied in this instance, the Court granted Ware’s writ and ordered the Clerk to produce the records. Ware was also awarded $1,000 in statutory damages because the Clerk’s delay exceeded 10 business days from the initial request, as well as court costs pursuant to R.C. 149.43(C)(3)(a)(1). See: State ex rel. Ware v. Parikh, 2023-Ohio-759.