State ex rel. Enquirer v. Lyons, s. 2012–1924

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio
Writing for the CourtLANZINGER, J.
Citation140 Ohio St.3d 7,14 N.E.3d 989,2014 Ohio 2354
Parties The STATE ex rel. CINCINNATI ENQUIRER v. LYONS, Judge.
Docket Number2013–0300.,Nos. 2012–1924,s. 2012–1924
Decision Date05 June 2014

140 Ohio St.3d 7
14 N.E.3d 989
2014 Ohio 2354

LYONS, Judge.

Nos. 2012–1924

Supreme Court of Ohio.

Submitted Nov. 5, 2013.
Decided June 5, 2014.

14 N.E.3d 991

Graydon, Head & Ritchey, L.L.P., and John C. Greiner, Cincinnati, for relator.

Michael T. Gmoser, Butler County Prosecuting Attorney, and Dan L. Ferguson, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for respondent in case No. 2012–1924.

Montgomery, Rennie & Jonson and George D. Jonson, Cincinnati, for respondent in case No. 2013–0300.


140 Ohio St.3d 8

{¶ 1} Two original actions filed by the Cincinnati Enquirer have been combined for resolution as related cases. In case No. 2012–1924, the Enquirer seeks a writ of mandamus to compel Judge Robert H. Lyons of the Butler County Area I Court to vacate his order sealing records related to the prosecution of a John Doe defendant for a disorderly-conduct misdemeanor charge that arose from his posting of a flier that advocated the rape of women at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. In case No. 2013–0300, the Enquirer seeks two writs: a writ of mandamus to compel Lyons to produce criminal records for the past five years that have been incorrectly sealed with a journal entry referencing R.C. 2953.52 instead of R.C. 2953.32, and a writ of prohibition to prevent him from enforcing his orders to seal those records.

{¶ 2} We deny the writs in case No. 2013–0300 but grant the writ of mandamus in case No. 2012–1924 and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.

Factual and Procedural History

Case No. 2012–1924

{¶ 3} In the fall of 2012, a misdemeanor prosecution was instituted against John Doe in connection with a flier distributed on the campus of Miami University promoting the "Top Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape." The Cincinnati Enquirer had printed a series of articles covering the incident and the university's response.

{¶ 4} Doe pled guilty to disorderly conduct, a minor misdemeanor, and an entry was filed on November 7, 2012, with the understanding that the court record would be sealed. He immediately applied to seal the case records using a preprinted form provided by the court that referenced R.C. 2953.52 rather than R.C. 2953.32 as authority for sealing of the conviction record. The prosecutor did not object to the application, and the court signed the order sealing the record. The Enquirer obtained a redacted copy of that order.

{¶ 5} On November 14, 2012, the Enquirer filed case No. 2012–1924, seeking a writ of mandamus to compel Judge Lyons to vacate the order sealing the record.

{¶ 6} Lyons filed an answer on December 13, 2012, admitting that he had erroneously relied on R.C. 2953.52 as authority to seal Doe's record but denying

140 Ohio St.3d 9

that the Enquirer had been deprived of its right of access to a criminal proceeding or that it was entitled to a writ of mandamus. The same day, Lyons unsealed the court record in Doe's case, set aside Doe's conviction, and permitted him to withdraw his guilty plea. The state then dismissed the charge, and the court purportedly resealed the record pursuant to R.C. 2953.52, finding that Doe's interest in having the records sealed outweighed any legitimate governmental need to maintain them.1

{¶ 7} The Enquirer contends that Lyons's initial order sealing Doe's record of conviction is unlawful, because R.C. 2953.52 does not authorize sealing the record in a case that results in a conviction.

14 N.E.3d 992

It also claims that Lyons lacked authority to set aside the conviction and allow Doe to withdraw his plea because the court was not bound by the plea agreement and thus Doe's expectation that the record would remain sealed does not amount to the manifest injustice required by Crim.R. 32.1. The Enquirer asserts that the second order sealing Doe's record is unlawful, because Lyons did not set a date for the hearing on Doe's application to seal the records as required by R.C. 2953.52(B)(1), but rather conducted an oral hearing immediately following the withdrawal of Doe's plea, which precluded the Enquirer from attending and protecting its right to access the records.

{¶ 8} Lyons maintains that the Enquirer lacks standing to challenge the order allowing Doe to withdraw his guilty plea, because it is not a party to that case, and its request intrudes into judicial and prosecutorial discretion. He contends that a manifest injustice supported withdrawal of the plea because unsealing Doe's record would breach the terms of the plea agreement and that the rights of the accused outweigh the rights of the press to access a court record. Lyons also asserts that he had no duty to notify the Enquirer of the hearing on Doe's motion to seal the record, because he complied with R.C. 2953.52(B)(1), which required him only to set a date for a hearing and to notify the prosecutor, who had been prepared to proceed.

Case No. 2013–0300

{¶ 9} In the course of discovery in case No. 2012–1924, the Enquirer learned that Judge Lyons had sealed numerous other minor-misdemeanor conviction records by using a form that cites R.C. 2953.52 instead of the correct statute, R.C. 2953.32.

{¶ 10} In its complaint in 2013–0300, the Enquirer requested a writ of mandamus requiring Lyons to produce all records of criminal proceedings sealed pursuant to R.C. 2953.52 following a conviction for the preceding five years. The

140 Ohio St.3d 10

Enquirer also asserts that the court should have at least produced redacted versions of the requested records, as required under Sup.R. 45(E)(3), and under R.C. 149.43(B)(1) for cases before the effective date of the rules. Lyons, the Enquirer alleges, has violated both the Rules of Superintendence and the Public Records Act by failing to use the least restrictive means in denying the request for court records.

Law and Analysis

{¶ 11} Mandamus is the appropriate remedy to compel compliance with the Public Records Act, R.C. 149.43(C)(1), and to enforce the provisions of the Superintendence Rules granting public access to court records, Sup.R. 47(B).2 To be entitled to extraordinary relief in mandamus, the Enquirer must establish a clear legal right to the sealed records, a clear legal duty on the part of the court to unseal them, and the lack of an adequate remedy

14 N.E.3d 993

in the ordinary course of law. State ex rel. Vindicator Printing Co. v. Wolff, 132 Ohio St.3d 481, 2012-Ohio-3328, 974 N.E.2d 89, ¶ 22.

{¶ 12} To be entitled to a writ of prohibition preventing enforcement of the sealing orders, the Enquirer must establish that Lyons is about to or has exercised judicial power, that the exercise of that power is unauthorized by law, and that denying the writ would result in an injury for which no other adequate remedy exists in the ordinary course of law. State ex rel. Bell v. Pfeiffer, 131 Ohio St.3d 114, 2012-Ohio-54, 961 N.E.2d 181, ¶ 18 ; State ex rel. Miller v. Warren Cty. Bd. of Elections, 130 Ohio St.3d 24, 2011-Ohio-4623, 955 N.E.2d 379, ¶ 12.

Superintendence Rules—Right to Access

{¶ 13} Effective July 1, 2009, we adopted Rules of Superintendence for the Courts of Ohio regarding public access to court records. Sup.R. 44 through 47. Pursuant to Sup.R. 45(A), "Court records are presumed open to public access."3 A person who is denied access to court records has a specific remedy. "A person aggrieved by the failure of a court or clerk of court to comply with the

140 Ohio St.3d 11

requirements of Sup.R. 44 through 47 may pursue an action in mandamus * * *." Sup.R. 47(B).

{¶ 14} Like Ohio's public-records law, the Rules of Superintendence regarding public access to court records should enjoy a broad judicial construction in favor of access to records, which promotes openness, transparency of process, and accountability. Sup.R. 45, like R.C. 149.43, embraces the principle that the people have a right to know what their government is doing. But access is not unlimited, and we have crafted exemptions in Sup.R. 44 and 45 that are to be viewed stringently.

{¶ 15} Once sealed, a criminal record, i.e., a case document, is exempt from public access. Sup.R. 44(C)(2)(a). As we have previously stated, "expungement is an act of grace created by the state." State v. Hamilton, 75 Ohio St.3d 636, 639, 665 N.E.2d 669 (1996). Thus, the sealing of a criminal record is a " ‘privilege, not a right’ " and should only be granted when all statutory requirements are met. State v. Boykin, 138 Ohio St.3d 97, 2013-Ohio-4582, 4 N.E.3d 980, ¶ 11, quoting State v. Futrall, 123 Ohio St.3d 498, 2009-Ohio-5590, 918 N.E.2d 497, ¶ 6. The question here is whether any of the case documents under discussion have been properly sealed so as to be a "document or information in a document exempt from disclosure under state, federal, or the common law."...

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