The March 5th edition of the Morrow County Sentinel posted an opinion article titled “Ohio Supreme Court rulings are a blow to Ohio Sunshine Laws”. The opinion article explains in great detail how it is possible for any public official with “selfish or sinister motivation” to legally withhold public records from open public review until ordered by the court to release them. In the case that was cited; public officials outright lied by denying the very existence of the records being requested.
I have received a letter dated December 16, 2013, from the Morrow County Prosecuting Attorney Charles Howland. The letter was in response to repeated public inquiries by me to our County Commissioners regarding a two part public records request that I had submitted to our Clerk of Courts and Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in March of that same year. In this letter; the County Prosecutor denied knowledge of a search warrant that was served on an illegal scrap metal dealer that had operated in Morrow County since December of 2007. He spoke on behalf of his office as well as on behalf of the Morrow County Clerk of Courts, Vanessa Mills, whose office had instructed me that I had to make my public records request through our County Prosecutor. Prior to the receipt of this letter, I had been granted direct knowledge of this search warrant. I was first informed of the warrant by a former employee of the Central Ohio Metal exchange. I then received verbal confirmation directly from the Marion County detective responsible for the execution of that warrant, as well as from the Morrow County Deputy assigned to assist him. Even though this personal knowledge had been shared previously in public session with our County Commissioners; this was our Prosecutor, Charles Howland’s response.
The following are direct quotes from that letter:
“I have no knowledge of any search warrant that was issued for the Central Ohio Metal Exchange. Neither does the Morrow County Clerk of Courts have any knowledge of a search warrant for the Central Ohio Metal Exchange.”
“I have advised you on numerous occasions that I have no knowledge of any search warrant that was issued for the Central Ohio Metal Exchange or any other business or entity located on that property, I have no knowledge of a search warrant. I have no access for a search warrant and I do not possess any record of warrant for the Central Ohio Metal Exchange. You must not confuse rumor and speculation for truth.”
“Please think this matter through with me. Say I did have the warrant and did not turn it over. I would be violating both state law and the Code of Professional Conduct for attorneys. My conduct would pave the way for a lawsuit against Morrow County and professional discipline of me by the Ohio Supreme Court. At a minimum, I would probably receive a six-month suspension, which would result in the loss of my job. And , I would have to confess judgment in the lawsuit against Morrow County. No rational person would take such actions.”
When I received a copy of the search warrant and affidavit from the Marion County Sheriff’s office I was not surprised by the Morrow Clerk of Courts stamp nor fax number on the document. I am thankful for the advice of Charles Howland as I did not allow myself to confuse rumor and speculation for truth, because no rational person would take such action.
Public records and the transparency that they provide are the tools necessary in order for the public to hold their elected representation accountable, they promote effectiveness and efficiency in their elected office. They also provide a defense against activities detrimental to the public trust. I caution any Ohio representative not to withhold public information from the public that it serves. All citizens have the same rights and protections afforded to them. The moment that you judge a man by his ability to finance legal representation and then determine his purpose or need as being insignificant, may very well be the most significant determining moment of the legacy that you leave behind. After all, this is the information age.
Copies of the documents mentioned are on file at the Morrow County Commissioners’ Office, as well as with the editor of the Morrow County Sentinel.
Regards, Darin Seiber, Canaan Township