Thursday, October 9, 2003

Records request argued



By Jordan Gentile
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - The Cincinnati Enquirer urged the Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday to open court records from the trial of former Cincinnati police Officer Stephen Roach.

Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Ralph Winkler sealed the records from view in November 2001, after Roach was acquitted of negligent homicide in the shooting of black teenager Timothy Thomasearlier that year. The killing sparked days of protest and riots.

Enquirer attorney John C. Greiner called the shooting a "notorious" event and said Winkler's order to seal the records violated the public's right to information of social importance.

"The city is still dealing with this event," Greiner said. "From a political and social perspective, it's a very public issue."

David T. Stevenson, an assistant Hamilton County prosecutor representing Winkler and then-Clerk of Courts James Cissell, argued Roach's right to privacy compelled Winkler to seal the court records.

Ohio law gives judges the authority to make that decision, he said, and public controversy in this case should not change that.

"This isn't just about one case involving one police shooting," Stevenson said. "Any records involving a public official will be fair game, regardless of the psychological damage it causes."

The justices appeared divided on the issue.

Justice Alice Robie Resnick said the court could overturn Winkler's decision only if it found his legal authority to seal records unconstitutional.

Resnick said that because Greiner was unwilling to press a strictly constitutional argument, "I just don't see how you're able to do anything at this time."

But Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer seemed more supportive of the newspaper's position.

When Stevenson said the Enquirer "waived its right" to the information when it requested transcripts only after Winkler sealed the records, Moyer questioned why the timing mattered.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has said that high courts in this country should be open to the public," Moyer said. "The records are open."

The Enquirer first requested a transcript of the Roach trial on Dec. 5, 2001. Winkler denied the request and the newspaper took its case to the 1st District Court of Appeals.

That court gave Winkler another chance to justify his decision. The court finally upheld Winkler's decision after it determined that the judge had properly balanced Roach's right to privacy against the right of public access.

The Ohio Supreme Court generally hands down decisions in these cases within the next three to six months.




TOP STORIES
Ohio tuition program on hold
Miami U. service workers end strike
Blue Ash may require helmets
Firefighters hold memorial march

IN THE TRISTATE
I-75: No easy fix to woes
Bomb victim, 10, here for treatment
Delhi infantryman remembered as a hero
Council hopefuls fail to inspire
Thrifty solution way too costly
Art museum extends invitation to Colerain
Ex-priest awaits decision
Down syndrome tests show promise
Pet a pig, try kettle corn at Blue Ash fest
Juror mouths off, officers get off in Lawrenceburg
Ruling based on religion tossed
Mayor urges city action to get cop report released
Records request argued
Regional Report

ENQUIRER COLUMNISTS
Pulfer: At NKU, it's really not about the buildings at all
Howard: Good Things Happening

BUTLER, WARREN, CLERMONT
Evidence re-checked in slaying
Hamilton to add officers for 911
Before exit can be planned, there's plenty of spadework
Something blue: Dress-less brides
Program spells out spelling
Mason waits on 3rd St. plan
Free-storage perk is over

OBITUARIES
John W. Devanney, 87, teacher, surgeon
Kentucky obituaries

OHIO
Cop killer challenges Ohio death penalty
50 years late, vet gets his medal
Ohio has to pay millions to drunk drivers
Dayton nervous over nerve gas residue
Lakefront owners, Ohio grapple over land rights
Ohio moments

KENTUCKY
Diocese suspends pastor in Gallatin Co.
Kentucky News Briefs
State Dems want Fletcher to pay for Bush's visit
Patton order to equalize state workers' health premiums
Cool-headed teenagers save bus driver
Memory expert gives tips to learn more, study less
Insurance tax draws seniors' fire
Kentucky to do
Turtles get lift back to sea