The Ohio Court of Claims has concluded that “the ‘Duckett notes’ are the notes taken by attorney Douglas Duckett during the 16 interviews of Liberty Township trustees, employees, and others,” Judge Patrick McGrath stated in his ruling last Friday.
The ruling was made in response to a motion filed with the court by Liberty Township residents Jim Hurt and Mark Gerber, who have been embroiled in a nearly two-year battle with township officials regarding the notes.
“The court finds that requesters’ argument that the ‘Duckett notes’ are ‘all documents, without limitation, used to prepare the charges for termination’ unpersuasive based on the special master’s findings, this court’s approval of those findings, and the Fifth District Court of Appeals decision affirming this court,” McGrath’s ruling states.
The much sought after notes were compiled by Cincinnati attorney Douglas Duckett, who was hired by township trustees in March 2016 as a private citizen to investigate the conduct of the township’s former fire chief, Tim Jensen.
From a previous motion filed by Hurt and Gerber to the Court, “It is worth noting that at no time has any Court or the Special Master limited the public records requested to the notes taken during the witness interviews nor has there ever been a ruling eliminating any of the numerous requests for public records set forth in the Complaint.”
“The court is not persuaded by requesters’ arguments that the ‘Duckett notes’ encompass more than the investigatory interview notes, and there is sufficient evidence to conclude that the ‘Duckett notes’ were provided in a timely manner to requesters,” McGrath stated in his ruling.
On Nov. 13, Hurt and Gerber filed a motion for enforcement and sanctions because, in their opinion, the township has not fully complied with the Court’s order.
McGrath’s ruling states, “As such, requesters’ motion for enforcement and sanctions is denied.”
Trustee Melanie Leneghan said the township has been as transparent as possible in releasing the documents to the public.
“I am thankful that the matter has been resolved,” she said. “I’m hopeful that everyone is satisfied with the result.”
Hurt said that he believes the Court has overlooked some issues that still need to be resolved.
“It’s important to remember that we are after public records that I believe should be available,” he said. “I believe there is information that has not been provided that the public has a right to know.”
Hurt and Gerber filed with the Court of Claims Nov. 21, 2016 after their repeated requests for Duckett’s investigatory notes were denied by township officials. The two residents began requesting the Duckett notes along with all other documents created during the investigation since May 2016.
The township argued that Duckett’s notes were not public records since the township does not have possession of them and they were covered by attorney-client privilege.
The Court of Claims delivered its decision March 29, 2017, determining the notes to be public documents.
Township attorney Stephanie Schoolcraft filed an appeal with the Fifth District Court on June 5 asking the court to review “whether the personal notes of a non-employee private citizen appointed pursuant to the Ohio Revised Code are public records even though the personal notes were not provided to, maintained, or used by … Liberty Township.”
The Fifth District affirmed the lower court’s ruling April 8 after which Judge Patrick M. McGrath, Ohio Court of Claims, wrote an order compelling the township to release the notes: “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.”
Hurt, Gerber, and The Gazette received an email from township administrator, Matt Huffman, Nov. 3 containing a PDF of only typed notes from Duckett’s formal interviews.
Hurt and Gerber claimed they had not received the full scope of attorney Douglas Duckett notes he had compiled in his investigation of the township’s former fire chief.
The Court scheduled a status conference via phone with the attorneys Dec. 6 to discuss the issues presented in both parties’ filings at the time. After which, both parties filed supplemental materials supporting their arguments Dec. 13.