Ohio Court of Claims orders Liberty Twp. to release attorney’s notes


By D. Anthony Botkin - abotkin@delgazette.com



The Ohio Court of Claims is ordering Liberty Township officials to release notes compiled by an attorney the township hired in 2016 to conduct an investigation.

The order is the result of a motion filed on behalf of township residents Jim Hurt and Mark Gerber to compel the township to release the notes.

In dark bold print, “Respondent shall deliver a copy of the ‘Duckett notes,’ with redaction based on any applicable public records exceptions, to requesters’ service address on or before November 3, 2017,” Judge Patrick M. McGrath wrote in his order.

Douglas Duckett, a Cincinnati attorney, was hired by trustees in March 2016 to investigate the conduct of the township’s former Fire Chief Tim Jensen. Duckett compiled the notes to complete his final report to trustees.

Ttownship residents Jim Hurt and Mark Gerber began requesting the Duckett notes in May 2016.

“The Township wouldn’t be in this predicament if (Township Trustee Melanie) Leneghan hadn’t involved herself in Duckett’s investigation as it clearly sites in the Court of Appeals documents,” Gerber said.

Gerber’s reference is from the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals’ affirmation, “… Duckett revised his ‘interview outline’ based upon the concerns of Trustee Leneghan.”

After their repeated requests were denied by officials, Hurt and Gerber filed a claim with the Ohio Court of Claims which delivered its decision March 29 determining the notes to be public documents.

Since then the township filed an appeal with Ohio’s Fifth Distract Court of Appeals hoping to overturn the lower court’s decision. The three appellate judges affirmed the lower court’s decision Sept. 26. Hurt and Gerber filed a motion with the Ohio Court of Claims to compel the township to release the Duckett notes.

Trustee Melanie Leneghan said the board still has the option to pursue an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court.

“We are meeting on (October) 31st to determine if we want to appeal,” said Leneghan. “If we appeal, no release.”

However, Leneghan said if the board decides not to move forward with the Supreme Court appeal, “we will begin the process of removing personal information,” she said. “We have the 45 days that the court allows, but the 31st is well in advance.”

The 45-day time limit was presented as one of the options by the Township Administrator Matt Huffman to trustees in their Oct. 2 meeting.

“One option is to get the notes from Mr. (Douglas) Duckett and have them redacted, or we go to the Ohio Supreme Court,” he said. “We have 45 days time to do that.”

By D. Anthony Botkin

abotkin@delgazette.com

D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.

D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.