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State, ex Rel. Harmon v. Bender

Supreme Court of Ohio
Jul 9, 1986
25 Ohio St. 3d 15 (Ohio 1986)


holding that videotapes of trial proceedings are public records

Summary of this case from State ex Rel. Slagle v. Rogers


No. 85-1758

Decided July 9, 1986.

Public records — Videotapes of trial proceedings are public records — R.C. 149.43(B).


It is the practice of the Crawford County Municipal Court to keep a videotape record of court proceedings. In late June 1985, relator, Craig Harmon, inquired of the clerk of that court as to the proper procedure for viewing those tapes. Relator was told to contact the court's bailiff, who was out of the office at the time. Several days later relator phoned the bailiff and requested access to the videotape of the proceedings in State v. Falzitto, No. 85TRD1059B, tried before respondent, Judge John F. Bender, on May 24, 1985. The defendant in that case, Larry A. Falzitto, was fined and jailed for ninety days for contempt of court. After conferring with respondent, the bailiff informed relator that only immediate family members of a party, attorneys, and members of the press were allowed access to the videotapes.

Relator then obtained a copy of the written transcript from the defendant's family. Upon reading the transcript relator found four places where the court reporter was unable to understand and transcribe respondent's comments to Falzitto. Because the written transcript was incomplete, relator still wished to view the videotapes. He called John Kady, Bureau Chief for United Press International, Columbus, Ohio, to inform him of the situation and to request permission to file a story.

Relator then phoned the bailiff, identified himself as a member of the press, and again requested access to the videotapes. After consulting with respondent, the bailiff informed relator that before access could be granted he would need a letter from relator's employer stating that relator was a reporter in good standing and giving his reasons for wanting to view the videotapes. Relator called John Kady to request such a letter and Kady agreed to send authorization to respondent.

In late July, relator went to the court to see if respondent had received Kady's letter. Respondent told relator that he had not received the letter. After some discussion respondent suggested that relator submit a written request for access to the videotapes. On July 28, 1985, relator submitted a written request and on August 13, 1985, respondent refused, in writing, access to the tapes.

On November 14, 1985, relator filed the instant action in mandamus requesting an order directing respondent to make available for viewing all videotape records of the court, specifically, those of the case of State v. Falzitto, supra.

Craig Harmon, pro se. Stanley E. Flegm, prosecuting attorney, and Lee A. Oldendick, for respondent.

The controlling question in this case is whether videotapes of trial proceedings are public records subject to the public access provisions of R.C. 149.43(B). We have previously held that mandamus is the appropriate remedy to compel a governmental unit to provide public access to public records under R.C. 149.43. See State, ex rel. Plain Dealer Publishing Co., v. Lesak (1984), 9 Ohio St.3d 1. For the following reasons we find that videotapes of trial proceedings are public records, and we issue a writ of mandamus directing respondent to allow relator access to the videotape of State v. Falzitto, supra.

R.C. 149.43(A)(1) defined "public record" as follows:

"`Public record' means any record that is required to be kept by any governmental unit, including, but not limited to, state, county, city, village, township, and school district units, except medical records, records pertaining to adoption, probation, and parole proceedings, records listed in division (A) of section 3107.42 of the Revised Code, trial preparation records, confidential law enforcement investigatory records, and records the release of which is prohibited by state or federal law." (140 Ohio Laws, Part I, 1791, 1792.)

We have interpreted this statutory definition of public records to include "`a[ny] record required by law to be kept, or necessary to be kept, in the discharge of a duty imposed by law * * *.'" State v. Brooks (1971), 27 Ohio St.2d 144, 147 [56 O.O.2d 80]; State, ex rel. Citizens' Bar Assn., v. Gagliardo (1978), 55 Ohio St.2d 70, 71 [9 O.O.3d 74].

R.C. 149.43(B) mandated public access to public records and stated in pertinent part:

"All public records shall be promptly prepared and made available to any member of the general public at all reasonable times for inspection. Upon request, a person responsible for public records shall make copies available at cost, within a reasonable period of time. In order to facilitate broader access to public records, governmental units shall maintain public records in such a manner that they can be made available for inspection in accordance with this division."

When viewed in light of R.C. 149.43 and the case law interpreting that statute, videotapes of trial proceedings fit squarely within the definition of public records. A trial court is required to make and keep a record of its proceedings for use on appeal. A trial court generally discharges this duty by recording the proceedings using either a videotape or a stenographer. Videotapes and stenographer's notes are, thus, records required by law to be kept by a governmental unit in order that it may properly discharge its duty of preserving a record for appeal. Since these records are not among those specifically exempted from public inspection by R.C. 149.43, we find them to be public records.

In conclusion, relator has demonstrated: (1) that the videotapes in question are public records, (2) that he has a clear legal right to access to those public records pursuant to R.C. 149.43, (3) that respondent has a clear legal duty to provide access to those public records, and (4) that he has no adequate remedy at law. We, therefore, grant relator's requested writ of mandamus.

It is unclear from the record in this case whether respondent's court has facilities with which relator could view the videotapes. Of course, if respondent's court does not have such facilities, relator may not remove the original tapes from the courthouse. Under such circumstances, relator would be required to obtain a copy of the tapes at his own expense to view elsewhere.

Writ granted.


Summaries of

State, ex Rel. Harmon v. Bender

Supreme Court of Ohio
Jul 9, 1986
25 Ohio St. 3d 15 (Ohio 1986)

holding that videotapes of trial proceedings are public records

Summary of this case from State ex Rel. Slagle v. Rogers
Case details for

State, ex Rel. Harmon v. Bender

Case Details


Court:Supreme Court of Ohio

Date published: Jul 9, 1986


25 Ohio St. 3d 15 (Ohio 1986)
494 N.E.2d 1135

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