Welsh-Huggins v. Office of Prosecuting Attorney, 022019 OHCOC, 2018-00793PQ

Docket Nº:2018-00793PQ
Opinion Judge:PATRICK M. MCGRATH JUDGE.
Party Name:ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS Requester v. OFFICE OF THE PROSECUTING ATTORNEY, JEFFERSON COUNTY, OHIO Respondent
Case Date:February 20, 2019
Court:Court of Claims of Ohio
 
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2019-Ohio-964

ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS Requester

v.

OFFICE OF THE PROSECUTING ATTORNEY, JEFFERSON COUNTY, OHIO Respondent

No. 2018-00793PQ

Court of Claims of Ohio

February 20, 2019

Sent to S.C. Reporter 3/20/19

DECISION AND ENTRY ADOPTING RECOMMENDATION OF SPECIAL MASTER

PATRICK M. MCGRATH JUDGE.

{¶1} Respondent Office Of The Prosecuting Attorney, Jefferson County, Ohio (Prosecutor's Office), through Jane Hanlin, prosecuting attorney of Jefferson, County, Ohio, objects to a special master's report and recommendation (R&R) issued on January 28, 2019.

I. Background

{¶2} Pursuant to R.C. 2743.75(D), requester Andrew Welsh-Huggins filed a complaint against the Prosecutor's Office, alleging a denial of access to public records. Welsh-Huggins asserted that, on August 21, 2017, he requested a copy of an external courthouse surveillance video showing the shooting of Judge Joseph J. Bruzzese, Jr., and Nate Richmond. Welsh-Huggins further asserted that, on August 22, 2017, Prosecuting Attorney Jane Hanlin rejected his public records request, citing several exemptions under the Ohio Public Records Act.

{¶3} The court appointed an attorney as a special master in the cause. The court, through the special master, referred the case to mediation. After mediation failed to successfully resolve all disputed issues, the court returned the case to the special master's docket. The Prosecutor's Office filed a response and moved to dismiss Welsh-Huggins' complaint. The special master determined that he required additional information from the Prosecutor's Office. The special master ordered the Prosecutor's

Office to file certain documents and records under seal and the special master also ordered additional filings by the parties.

{¶4} On January 28, 2019, the special master issued a R&R wherein he recommended (1) denying the Prosecutor's Office's motion to dismiss, (2) granting Welsh-Huggins' "claim for production of the withheld video, subject to redaction of specific portions excepted from release by R.C. 149.43(A)(7)(g)," and (3) issuing an order that Welsh-Huggins "is entitled to recover from [the Prosecutor's Office] the costs associated with this action, including the twenty-five-dollar filing fee." (R&R, 3, 19-20.)

II. Law and Analysis

{¶5} R.C. 2743.75(F)(2) governs objections to a report and recommendation issued by a special master of this court relative to a public-records dispute brought under R.C. 2743.75. Pursuant to R.C. 2743.75(F)(2), either party "may object to the report and recommendation within seven business days after receiving the report and recommendation by filing a written objection with the clerk and sending a copy to the other party by certified mail, return receipt requested." And, according to R.C. 2743.75(F)(2), if either party timely objects, the other party "may file with the clerk a response within seven business days after receiving the objection and send a copy of the response to the objecting party by certified mail, return receipt requested."

{¶6} In this instance, although the Prosecutor's Office filed its objections within seven business days after receiving the special master's R&R, the objections are procedurally irregular for at least two reasons: (1) Hanlin failed to serve the objections on defense counsel who appeared on Welsh-Higgin's behalf in this case (attorneys Greiner and Ford), and (2) Hanlin failed to send a copy of the objections on defense counsel by certified mail, return receipt requested, as required by R.C. 2743.75(F)(2). The Prosecutor's Office's objections also are irregular because the Prosecutor's Office's objections reference matters that were discussed during mediation, matters that are presumptively privileged. (Objections, 5.) See R.C. 2710.03 (privilege against disclosure of a mediation communication)...

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