The Ohio Court of Claims Wednesday afternoon ordered Liberty Township to release the handwritten notes from the investigation of the township’s former fire chief.
Douglas Duckett, a Cincinnati attorney, was hired to investigate the conduct of then Fire Chief Tim Jensen prior to his disciplinary hearing in August 2016. His handwritten notes have been ruled by the court as public documents.
The court adopted Special Master Jeffery Clark’s recommendation as its own. It states:
“Upon review of the record, the special master’s decision, the objections, and requesters’ response, the court finds that the special master properly determined the factual issues and appropriately applied the law. Therefore, the Township’s objections are overruled and the court adopts the special master’s report and recommendation as its own, including findings of fact and conclusions of law contained therein,” said Judge Patrick M. McGarth in his judgement.
“Judgment is rendered in favor of requesters. In accordance with the special master’s recommendation, the court orders the Township to provide requesters with the Duckett notes. Court costs are assessed against Liberty Township.”
The township’s former fiscal officer Mark Gerber and township resident Jim Hurt filed a claim with the court against the township Nov. 21 after repeatedly being denied the documents. Both have maintained that Duckett’s handwritten notes are public record and should be released.
Matt Huffman, township administrator, in an email to Hurt, states he had talked with the township’s attorney who said, “Those notes are not a public record since the township does not have possession of those documents. The documents were never introduced as exhibits and are not in the record.”
The township also denied Gerber’s and Hurt’s claim, citing the documents were covered by attorney-client privilege.
In April the 131st General Assembly of Ohio “created a procedure within the Court of Claims to hear complaints alleging a denial of access to public records.”
Jensen accepted a position as fire prevention officer as part of a settlement with the township in 2016.
Thomas O’Brien from Newark, Ohio, was appointed in February as the township’s new fire chief. O’Brien will receive an annual salary of $100,000.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.