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Ohio Governor Allowed to Keep Some Secrets

April 14, 2006|From the Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Supreme Court gave Gov. Robert A. Taft a partial victory Thursday in his efforts to withhold documents connected to a corruption scandal, saying he has the right to keep some records secret but must do more to prove that those related to a state investment in rare coins should be sealed.

Ruling 5 to 2, the court for the first time gave the governor limited ability to keep certain policymaking records private, but rejected the notion that Taft had a sweeping executive privilege that made all communication with his Cabinet directors exempt from public review.

Members of the public may have access when they can demonstrate a need that outweighs the governor's right to confidentiality, the court said. It set up a three-step process for releasing such records when they are in the public interest.

The ruling came in a lawsuit by Democratic state Sen. Marc Dann, who had used the state public records act to try to review documents related to the unorthodox investments by the state Bureau of Workers' Compensation. As much as $13 million is missing from the rare-coin investments handled by a GOP donor, sparking a scandal that has engulfed state politics.

With no relevant Ohio precedent, the state high court turned to the Supreme Court's United States vs. Nixon ruling over release of the Watergate tapes.

Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, writing for the majority, said the heart of that 1973 ruling was that some expectation of confidentiality for government executives "is the necessity for protection of the public interest in candid, objective, and even blunt or harsh opinions in presidential decision-making."

Dann, a candidate for state attorney general, skewered the decision as protecting Taft from political embarrassment and upholding a culture of corruption in state government.

Taft spokesman Mark Rickel said the decision provided important protections for the current administration and future governors.

"The court did a good job reconciling the need for limited executive privilege with the public's right to know," he said.

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