State ex rel. Steckman v. Jackson

Decision Date07 September 1994
Docket NumberNos. 92-2254,93-1336 and 92-1758,s. 92-2254
Citation70 Ohio St.3d 420,639 N.E.2d 83
PartiesThe STATE ex rel. STECKMAN, Appellee, v. JACKSON, Chief, Appellant. The STATE ex rel. LARKINS, Appellant, v. KOVACIC, Chief, Appellee. The STATE of Ohio, Appellant, v. AMATO, Appellee.
CourtOhio Supreme Court

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. In a pending criminal case, persons seeking to secure records alleged to be "public records," access to which has been requested and denied, must, in accordance with R.C. 149.43(C), use mandamus. (State ex rel. Scanlon v. Deters [1989], 45 Ohio St.3d 376, 544 N.E.2d 680, and its progeny, overruled; R.C. 149.43[C], construed and applied.)

2. In the criminal proceeding itself, a defendant may use only Crim.R. 16 to obtain discovery.

3. Information, not subject to discovery pursuant to Crim.R. 16(B), contained in the file of a prosecutor who is prosecuting a criminal matter, is not subject to release as a public record pursuant to R.C. 149.43 and is specifically exempt from release as a trial preparation record in accordance with R.C. 149.43(A)(4).

4. Once a record becomes exempt from release as a "trial preparation record," that record does not lose its exempt status unless and until all "trials," "actions" and/or "proceedings" have been fully completed.

5. Except as required by Crim.R. 16, information assembled by law enforcement officials in connection with a probable or pending criminal proceeding is, by the work product exception found in R.C. 149.43(A)(2)(c), excepted from required release as said information is compiled in anticipation of litigation. The work product exception does not include ongoing routine offense and incident reports, including, but not limited to, records relating to a charge of driving while under the influence and records containing the results of intoxilyzer tests. Routine offense and incident reports are subject to immediate release upon request. If release is refused, an action in mandamus, pursuant to R.C. 149.43(C), will lie to secure release of the records.

6. A defendant in a criminal case who has exhausted the direct appeals of her or his conviction may not avail herself or himself of R.C. 149.43 to support a petition for postconviction relief. (State ex rel. Clark v. Toledo [1990], 54 Ohio St.3d 55, 560 N.E.2d 1313, and its progeny, overruled.)

7. Discovery orders are interlocutory and, as such, are neither final nor appealable. (Humphry v. Riverside Methodist Hosp. [1986], 22 Ohio St.3d 94, 22 OBR 129, 488 N.E.2d 877, and State v. Port Clinton Fisheries, Inc. [1984], 12 Ohio St.3d 114, 12 OBR 157, 465 N.E.2d 865, overruled.)

Before us today are three cases which give us the opportunity to meet head-on the continuing and ever-increasing problem of the use (and attempted use) of R.C. 149.43 (public records law) as a vehicle to obtain records from law enforcement officials and the contents of the files of prosecutors in pending criminal cases. We have been cognizant, for many months now, of the confusion in this area of the law. We fully recognize that some of the confusion has emanated from our own cases as each of us, given our differing views, wrestles, on a case-by-case basis, with what we believe the law is--and should be. We further recognize that this hodgepodge of cases has caused difficulty for our sisters and brothers in both appellate and trial courts as they meet, almost daily, demands of criminal defendants for production of records.

In an attempt to bring some order out of the confusion, we have chosen to consolidate these three cases for decision. Each case presents a different procedural posture and in deciding the proper disposition of each case, we are also able to reach the other troubling issues that are either directly, peripherally or implicitly before us and are in need of some specific clarification.

Case No. 92-2254

On October 18, 1991, George Jones was indicted for aggravated murder and aggravated robbery in the shooting death of Travis Williams. Included in the indictment was a death penalty specification and a gun specification. Through court-appointed counsel, Jones sought and received discovery pursuant to Crim.R. 16.

On November 14, 1991, the trial court approved the employment of a private investigator to aid in the preparation of the defense of Jones. William Steckman (a private investigator), relator-appellee herein, was hired. In January 1992, Steckman (appellee), by letter, requested Columbus Police Chief James Jackson (appellant) to provide access to and copies of records relating to the investigation of the murder of Travis Williams. Appellee's request was made pursuant to R.C. 149.43. Appellant, through counsel, rejected appellee's request.

Subsequently, in February 1992, appellee brought this action in mandamus in the Franklin County Court of Appeals. The action was brought pursuant to R.C. 149.43(C). Appellee sought to compel appellant to make available for inspection and copying those portions of police files which set forth objective facts and observations, witness statements, inventory sheets, diagrams and photographs and the identity of witnesses, all relating to the Williams homicide investigation. Appellant answered, denying that R.C. 149.43 required release of the records being sought by appellee.

On October 8, 1992, the court of appeals granted appellee a writ of mandamus ordering appellant to produce the requested records. Among other things, the court of appeals held that appellee was entitled to the benefits of R.C. 149.43 even though he was a designee, in effect, of Jones. The court of appeals then stayed its judgment pending appeal to this court. This also brought about, apparently, the further postponement of the criminal trial of Jones.

The cause is now before us upon an appeal as of right.

Case No. 93-1336

On August 5, 1981, Ronald Larkins (appellant) was indicted for the aggravated murder of Lawrence Botnick and the attempted murder of Botnick's son, Bruce, during a robbery of the Botnicks' pawnshop. Appellant was convicted of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and attempted murder. Upon appeal, appellant's conviction and sentence were affirmed.

Subsequently, appellant filed a petition for postconviction relief. On September 5, 1990, the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas dismissed appellant's petition. Following that dismissal, appellant, by letter dated October 17, 1992, requested Cleveland Police Chief Edward Kovacic (appellee) to provide appellant with all records, including investigative records, under appellant's name and which related to the murder and attempted murder of the Botnicks.

Being incarcerated, and faced with this court's decision in State ex rel. Fenley v. Ohio Historical Soc. (1992), 64 Ohio St.3d 509, 597 N.E.2d 120, appellant, in his letter to appellee, requested that appellee assemble the requested records, advise appellant of the cost of copying and suggest a date when a person to be designated by appellant could appear, pay for and receive the copies.

Appellee did not reply to appellant's letter. Thus, on December 10, 1992, appellant filed a complaint for a writ of mandamus in the Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals. Appellant prayed that appellee be forced to comply with R.C. 149.43. Appellee answered, saying that under R.C. 149.43, he had no duty to appellant.

On May 5, 1993, the court of appeals dismissed appellant's action. Even though, as pointed out by the court of appeals, Larkins had not yet designated a specific designee to obtain his records, the court of appeals went on to hold that " * * * this court declines to 'amend' the statute by inferring that a person has the right to appoint a designee in seeking public records." Appellant appealed to this court.

The cause is now before us upon an appeal as of right.

Case No. 92-1758

On February 8, 1991, Daniel J. Amato (appellee) was indicted by the Lake County Grand Jury for kidnapping. The indictment included a firearm specification. Subsequently, on February 14, 1991, discovery was begun pursuant to appellee's request and Crim.R. 16.

During the course of this pretrial discovery, appellee, on March 22, 1991, filed a motion seeking to obtain from the Lake County Sheriff's Department and the state of Ohio (appellant) all public records relating to the pending criminal charges against appellee. Appellee's motion indicated that he was making the request pursuant to R.C. 149.43. After holding a hearing, the trial court, on May 21, 1991, found appellee's motion to be well taken and ruled that appellant, pursuant to R.C. 149.43 and applicable case law, release to appellee all public records related to appellee's case. The trial court also required appellant to provide to the court, for an in camera inspection, all records that appellant claimed to be exempt from disclosure.

Appellant argued to the court that, pursuant to the exceptions in R.C. 149.43, the records requested by appellee were exempt from disclosure. Appellant also argued that the information contained in the police report was not subject to disclosure beyond the requirements of Crim.R. 16. Subsequent to the court's in camera inspection, the trial court, on May 23, 1991, ordered appellant to turn over to appellee the entire police report after portions of the report were redacted. Appellant (the state) moved the trial court to stay the proceedings pending an appeal by appellant regarding the validity of the trial court's order to disclose. The trial court granted appellant's motion.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals for Lake County, citing this court's cases of State ex rel. Scanlon v. Deters (1989), 45 Ohio St.3d 376, 544 N.E.2d 680, and State ex rel. Shane v. New Philadelphia Police Dept. (1990), 56 Ohio St.3d 36, 564 N.E.2d 89, held that appellant was incorrect in asserting that appellee should have filed a complaint for a writ of mandamus to obtain public records rather than a motion for...

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