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Home > SPJ News > SPJ Legal Defense Fund assists student journalist in winning open records lawsuit

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SPJ Legal Defense Fund assists student journalist in winning open records lawsuit


5/21/2015


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 21, 2015

Contacts:
Dana Neuts, SPJ National President, 360-920-1737 (PDT), dneuts@spj.org
Hagit Limor, SPJ LDF Committee Chair, 513-305-0090, hlimormedia@gmail.com
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Communications Strategist, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is pleased with the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision today that private college police departments are subject to the state’s Public Records Act.

SPJ contributed $10,000 from its Legal Defense Fund to assist the case of Anna Schiffbauer, an editor at Otterbein360.com, which covers Otterbein University events and news.

“It's been a long process, but we are so glad the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the release of records,” Schiffbauer said. “This means a lot to student journalists trying to inform their campus communities and also to the public who is better able to watch government agencies.

“We are truly grateful for the support we've had from the journalism community. Without the support of SPJ, the Student Press Law Center and the Ohio Coalition for Open Government, today's victory wouldn't have occurred,” she continued.

In January 2014, Schiffbauer requested reports of student and non-student criminal cases that had been referred to the Westerville, Ohio, Mayor’s Court. The university’s vice president and student affairs dean denied the request, saying a private university’s police records are not public. Schiffbauer filed a mandamus action asking the Ohio Supreme Court to order the release of the documents.

Today, in a 4-3 decision in State ex rel. Schiffbauer v. Banaszak, the Ohio Supreme Court ordered the Otterbein University police chief to produce the criminal records requested by Schiffbauer. The court said the university’s police department was established by statute to enforce criminal laws and that function makes the department a public office under the state’s Public Records Act.

“This is exactly what SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund was designed to do – support litigation that enforces public access to government records and proceedings, and defending the First Amendment,” said Hagit Limor, SPJ’s LDF Committee chair.

Limor thanked Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office for its support of transparency of public offices. “Attorney General DeWine’s office is the most transparent agency with which I’ve dealt as a journalist,” she said. “They always respond and they do it quickly.”

DeWine issued a statement earlier today saying he was pleased the court agreed with their arguments that private college police departments are performing a function of the state in exercising police powers.

SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund is a unique account that can be tapped for providing journalists with legal or direct financial assistance in defending the freedom of speech and press guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The primary role of the LDF is to initiate and support litigation that enforces public access to government records and proceedings, which can be the most expensive way to defend the First Amendment. Application to the fund it approved by either a small committee or by the national board, depending on the level of assistance sought. The committee works through the year raising funds for LDF. To donate to SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund, visit the LDF page on SPJ’s website.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit spj.org.

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